5 things to know before the stock market opens March 31, 2020

1. Stock futures are higher after another robust rally from coronavirus lows

U.S. stock futures were pointing to a higher open Tuesday, the final day of the turbulent first quarter. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 3% on Monday — up over 20% from its coronavirus sell-off low hit on March 23 but still off 24.5% from last month’s record high. The 10-year Treasury yield moved higher early Tuesday but remained around 0.7%. U.S. oil prices were bouncing more than 5% early Tuesday after falling below $20 per barrel to an 18-year low and finishing the New York session just above that level Monday. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, in phone call Monday, agreed to talks to stabilize energy markets. China’s official purchasing managers’ index for March showed an expansion instead of an expected contraction. However, Chinese officials warned against reading too much into the numbers because February’s outbreak halt was so severe.

2. Dow set to post its worst quarter in over three decades

New York Stock Exchange building is seen at the Financial District in New York City, United States on March 29, 2020.

Tayfun Coskun | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Wall Street closes the books Tuesday on the worst month since the financial crisis, when the Dow sank 14% in October 2008, and the worst quarter since Q4 1987, a three-month period that included the October “Black Monday” stock market crash. The fourth quarter in 1987 saw the Dow plunge 25.3%. This year, heading into the final trading day in March, the Dow was losing more than 12% for the month and nearly 22% for the first quarter as the coronavirus crisis bought the U.S. economy to a virtual halt. The S&P 500 was faring marginally better than the Dow, off 11% in March, the worst since a nearly 17% drop in October 2008. The S&P 500’s 18.7% decline with one day left in the quarter was the worst three-month period since Q4 2008, when the index lost almost 22.6%.

3. Global coronavirus cases surpass three quarters of million

A nurse wearing a protective mask is seen outside Elmhurst Hospital Center in the Queens borough of New York, March 30, 2020.

Jeenah Moon | Reuters

Global coronavirus cases surged past 788,500 with 37,877 deaths and nearly 160,000 recoveries, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The U.S. remained the country with the most known cases — over 164,600. The U.S. death toll of 3,170 as of Tuesday morning was 139 below fatalities in China, where the outbreak started in December. The most deaths from the virus and the second most infections were in Italy, which saw 11,591 deaths among more than 101,700 cases. Spain has the third most cases at about 88,000 and the second highest death toll at 7,716. China has the fourth most cases at over 82,240 and the third most deaths at 3,309.

4. USNS Comfort docks in New York City to relieve overwhelmed hospitals

A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter flies above USNS Comfort as it enters New York Harbor during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in New York City, U.S., March 30, 2020.

Mike Segar | Reuters

The USNS Comfort floating hospital ship was docked in New York City after arriving Monday morning with the goal of taking noncoronavirus patients within 24 hours. The arrival of the Comfort attracted crowds, with many seeing the ship as a symbol of hope. But the onlookers also raised questions around social distancing.

The Comfort’s mission was to help take the strain off New York hospitals, which have been overwhelmed by coronavirus cases. Temporary hospitals have been set up in New York’s Javits Convention Center and in Central Park. The Comfort’s sister ship, the USNS Mercy, has been serving noncoronavirus cases in Los Angeles since Sunday.

5. Amazon fires warehouse worker who organized a strike over coronavirus protections

Amazon has fired a New York warehouse worker who organized a strike to demand what he sees as the greater need for coronavirus protections for employees. Chris Smalls, a management assistant at the fulfillment center known as JFK8 on the city’s Staten Island, told CNBC on Monday he was fired to keep him quiet. Amazon said Smalls was fired after he received “multiple warnings” for violating social distancing guidelines and refusing to remain quarantined after coming into close contact with an associate who tested positive for the virus. The organizers said at least 50 people joined Monday’s walkout. Amazon said that number was more like 15. The JKF8 facility employs about 4,500 people.

Countries in lockdown should try what Singapore is doing: coronavirus expert

Countries under lockdown should do what Singapore has done to blunt the spread of the coronavirus, according to an infectious disease expert working with the World Health Organization.

While the Southeast Asian nation continues to report new cases of infections daily and has seen recent spikes, it has managed to steer clear of the kind of catastrophic outbreaks that have occurred in other countries. As of March 31, Singapore recorded a total of 879 cases of COVID-19 and three deaths, its health ministry reported. 

“All the things that Singapore has in place, any country under lockdown will need to do these, or implement these during lockdown, so that they can be safe afterwards,” said Dale Fisher, chair of the World Health Organization (WHO) Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network. He outlined some of these measures, including isolating and quarantining cases, contact tracing — identifying and isolating those in close contact with infected patients, and practicing social distancing.

Singapore made use of the lead time when China first reported cases of COVID-19 in the city of Wuhan, and was able to rapidly identify and isolate cases, according to Fisher, who is also a senior consultant at an infectious disease division at the National University Hospital in Singapore.

“So January and February was really the time to ramp up, and that’s when Singapore was particularly active in getting itself ready … any country really had January and February to get themselves prepared,” Fisher told CNBC’s “Street Signs Asia” on Monday. “And countries that didn’t take advantage of that lead time are now the ones that have got a problem.”

Lockdown playbook

While Singapore has implemented more restrictive measures in recent days, it has not gone into a total lockdown.

Schools and businesses remain open, while businesses have moved to encourage working from home, in addition to other precautionary measures like regular temperature checks at work and enacting business continuity plans. 

So (a) lockdown is really any country’s second chance — it’s not an intervention in itself. It’s just buying time…

Dale Fisher

chair of WHO’s Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network

Countries that have gone into some form of lockdown so far include India, France, Italy, Spain, some states in the U.S. and China — though the mainland is set to lift some of its lockdown measures soon.  

“All the things Singapore has in place, any country under lockdown will need to do these or implement these during lockdown so that they can be safe afterwards … till a drug is found,” he said.

“I think there is a playbook and it’s being played in Singapore, Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and China — China is still (coming out of a lockdown) and even China’s taking more than two months to really get ramped up again — so other countries that are locking down will need to look at several months to get the systems in place so they can then unlock slowly,” Fisher added. 

However, he also emphasized that lockdowns were not the cure-all.   

“So (a) lockdown is really any country’s second chance — it’s not an intervention in itself. It’s just buying time to set up all those measures of your testing and how you’re going to isolate the cases and how you’re going to enforce quarantine in close contact,” he said.

‘Long battle ahead’

Singapore has also garnered praise from the World Health Organization which said it was “very impressed” with the country’s efforts at contact tracing and its measures to limit transmission.

The tiny Southeast Asian country’s approach to case detection was also considered to be a “gold standard of near-perfect detection,” four epidemiologists at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health said in February.

However, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was careful not to claim success too quickly. In an interview with cable network CNN, Lee said: “I hesitate to talk about success because we are right in the midst of a battle, which is intensifying.”

He said the country has “tried very hard” to explain to its people what needs to be done and how they can cooperate “such as keeping safe distances from one to another, such as watching their own personal hygiene, such as staying home if they are sick and not going to work, and not socializing.”

Still, he said there was more work to be done: “With great effort, I think it has helped to keep the number of cases down, but I am under no illusions that we have won. We are just going in, and there is a long battle ahead.”

Most recently, Singapore implemented more restrictions and those who fail to follow social distancing measures — such as maintaining a 1-meter distance with others in public areas — would now face fine or jail, or both. The penalties will also apply to those flouting stay-at-home notices.

Hold out for a vaccine

According to Fisher, the virus will likely remain with us for some time. 

“I don’t think anything’s going to be quick — vaccine won’t be quick, the treatment won’t be quick, but they do represent the endgame because still, only a tiny percentage of the world is actually being infected if you consider … there’s over 7.5 billion people in the world,” said Fisher. 

People seated in a food center in Marina Bay Sands shopping mall according to safe distancing markers on March 30, 2020 in Singapore.

Ore Huiying | Getty Images

He warned that attaining herd immunity “requires far too many people to be exposed, and the devastation that (it) would cause.” Herd immunity refers to a situation where sufficient people in a population have become immune to a disease such that it effectively stops the disease from spreading.

Instead, he said he was pinning his hopes on “holding out” for a treatment or a vaccine. 

“Even when there’s a vaccine or a treatment, this disease will be part of what a doctor will need to consider when someone comes in with pneumonia or upper respiratory illness. So, this is going to be with us,” he said. 

WPP pulls dividend, share buyback and guidance due to coronavirus

WPP, the world’s largest advertising group, pulled its dividend and share buyback and withdrew guidance for 2020 on Tuesday, after clients cancelled marketing booked with the company due to the coronavirus crisis.

“The actions we have taken in the last 18 months to streamline and simplify WPP, together with raising £3.2 billion ($3.97 billion) in asset disposals, have put WPP in a strong financial position,” CEO Mark Read said in a statement.

Read told CNBC the company is “very cautious” about the impact of the coronavirus on its clients’ budgets.

“We are taking actions to reduce and look at our costs. And I think that there will no doubt be tougher decisions ahead, during the course of the year,” Mark Read told CNBC by phone on Monday.

The ad industry is bracing itself as marketing budgets are often cut during downturns, with one analyst suggesting $26 billion could be lost in the U.S. alone. Rival ad group Publicis said earlier this month that it would “rigorously manage operating costs,” while last week IPG also withdrew its financial performance targets for the full year 2020. 

Along with pulling its dividend, share buyback and guidance, WPP said on Tuesday it had launched a review of its costs to protect profitability. 

“We are very cautious about the impact on marketing budgets, but at the same time I do believe that when we come out of the other side, the things that WPP can do will be in even greater demand by our clients,” Read told CNBC. WPP’s businesses include media-buying companies MediaCom and Wavemaker, and creative agencies Ogilvy and VMLY&R and the group works for clients including Mondelez, Duracell and eBay.

“Clearly, marketing budgets are going to come under pressure and increasing pressure during the year and we don’t know yet at what point we’re going to come out the other side,” Read told CNBC.

Short term, some businesses still need to communicate with customers, Read added. “Clearly, those industries that are most heavily impacted in the short term — airlines, travel and tourism — are clearly looking at their (marketing) budgets. Other parts of the economy, retail and packaged goods, understand the value of long-term brand building and continue to engage with consumers.”

“We have a sold roster of clients in the packaged goods, technology areas, media areas. Those clients I’d say are more re-planning their budgets to make sure they’re in the most effective channels. But clearly, there are other parts of our business, other sectors that are more affected.”

Channel shift

Over the past few weeks, WPP’s agencies have been shifting some clients’ budgets to digital channels to stimulate ecommerce spending, though at the same time, there is a general return to old school media as people stay indoors, Read said. “One of the ironies of the current situation, people are watching probably traditional media than they ever have done. You know, watching more TV, reading newspapers maybe online rather than physically.”

In February, WPP’s stock fell to its lowest level since 2012 on news of a fourth-quarter slowdown and the company is in the middle of a three-year turnaround plan, instigated by Read when he became CEO in September 2018 after Martin Sorrell left amid controversy in April that year.

What of the plan during the coronavirus outbreak? WPP — which has 130,000 staff — merged agencies such as JWT and Wunderman, offered clients a more integrated service and sold research consultancy Kantar in December. Read points to the fact that the company reduced its net debt to £1.5 billion at the start of the year from £4 billion at the beginning of 2019. “I’m very pleased by the actions we took and the progress that we made and if anything, you know, we need to accelerate them to make WPP simpler, more client focused, more creative,” he told CNBC.

Like thousands of WPP staff, Read is adapting to working at home under lockdown, and he spoke to CNBC from London where his two children, aged eight and 10, are now home-schooling.

“If you’d asked me three weeks ago if I thought (WPP) could do it I would have said absolutely no way. I’m amazed, actually, how productive people are being,” he said.

Working remotely has sped up the company’s adoption of Microsoft Teams, a type of collaboration software, with the business seeing a 60-fold increase in usage over the past month.

“People are very busy working for clients, getting work out, helping their clients, you know, re-planning communications, figuring out what the right thing to say is (in ads),” he told CNBC.

Read has been holding country-wide conference calls with agency staff, with 2,500 dialing in from Italy last week. This week, he will speak to employees in Spain. “Those markets, I think, are in the most difficult situations just because of the rapid spread of the virus and the impact it is having on health care systems,” he said. In China, meanwhile, consumers are going back to work so Read expects clients to think about advertising again.

Influencer marketing

The nature of marketing communications is also likely to change. “The things that made us strong traditionally, understanding what people think, how they feel, why they do things, how to capture people emotionally, will be very important.”

As well as creating ads using typography or animation instead of shooting them, the group is also moving work around the world, from the U.K. to China, for example. Since the outbreak of the virus it has worked more with influencers too, Read said. “Influencers are interesting because they can talk to people, particularly young people. We’ve done work with a number of clients and governments helping to communicate the severity of the situation to young people, who in some cases feel immune from it,” he said.

WPP’s blog offers advice on crisis communications, how brands should not “go dark” on social media and provides tips on working from home. Leo Rayman, CEO of WPP’s Grey Consulting business, stated he is spending what would have been his commuting time on writing a book. Does Read have that luxury?

“Sadly, I don’t have any extra time. I’m getting reacquainted with my children, I would say.”

‘Mental vacation’ pictures relieve stress. Here’s what they look like

With travel ground to a halt and millions of people confined to their homes, global spirits could use some uplifting.

From the smell of freshly-cut grass to the sight of a sunrise peeking above a tropical horizon, nothing can replace spending time in the Great Outdoors.

But simply looking at photographs of nature for as few as five minutes can have a similar, calming effect on the brain.

“There are studies that show that looking at pleasant images can provide a type of mental escape for individuals during times of moderate stress,” said Sandra Sgoutas-Emch, a psychological sciences professor at the University of San Diego. “For example, a study out of the Netherlands in 2015 found that having students look at pictures of nature helped to reduce their stress reaction during a stress test, versus pictures of buildings.”

Looking at relaxing imagery can also be viewed as a form of mindfulness meditation which activates the parasympathetic system, she added, referring to the part of the nervous system that helps us relax and “quiet the areas of the brain that are involved in fear and anxiety.”

The spirals on Romanesco broccoli illustrate one of the many examples of fractals found in nature.

AlasdairJames

The type of images we look at matters. Fractals — a mathematical term for never-ending patterns — have a particularly strong calming effect on the parasympathetic system.

Studies indicate that looking at fractals increases alpha brain waves, as well as blood flow, to the parahippocampus and other areas of the brain that regulate emotions.

Fractals are common in nature and can be seen in everything from leaves and snowflakes to lightning bolts, clouds, ferns, cacti and snail shells.

Take a look at the travel photos below, and gauge your stress levels before and after you finish reading. 

Clouds

A sunset to be celebrated.

Karan Oberoi / EyeEm

This photo was taken on a hill station located at an altitude over 6,500 feet above sea level in a place known as “The Queen of the Hills.”

Home to more than 30,000 people, the area has a wildlife sanctuary, a nature walk known as Camel’s Back, a Tibetan temple known as Happy Valley (said to be the first Tibetan temple in Indiay) and a popular spot called Lake Mist where travelers can boat and swim in waterfalls.

A town high on romance and charm, the area attracts many tourists, including honeymooners from across the sub-continent. Education is also a draw; Christian residents have been attending the Woodstock School since it first opened here in 1854.

Location: Mussoorie, India

Bamboo 

A tranquil path though a bamboo forest.

Tassaphon Vongkittipong

A common sight in college dorm rooms, office reception areas and computers in sleep mode, this famous scene goes beyond the calming patterns at play. It is in fact a real place in a city that is home to zen gardens and over 1,600 temples. 

This bamboo forest covers around six square miles and has nearly 1,000 feet of pathways. Weekday mornings are said to provide the most secluded experience, when slivers of light pierce through the bamboo trees and cast long spindly shadows onto the forest floors.

The practice of “forest bathing” was coined in this country, where inhabitants have long revered bamboo for its structural and edible qualities.

Location: Arashiyama Bamboo Grove in Kyoto, Japan

Night lights 

The Northern Lights atop a snow-dusted forest.

Courtesy of Scott Dunn

Mother Nature’s most spectacular light show can be seen from a number of countries including Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and the United States (Alaska). But this location is known for being one of the top spots to see the Northern Lights from accommodations that range from igloos made of glass or snow to luxury treehouses.

During the early summer months, the sun shines for two months straight in a phenomenon known as midnight sun. And the area, which is about as big as Belgium, Holland and Switzerland combined, has more reindeer (200,000) than people (184,000).

Location: Lapland, Finland

Fall foliage 

A road that is the destination.

franckreporter

As summer and fall travel will likely see a return of the road trip, travel along beautiful highways like this one are predicted to dominate travel in the latter part of 2020.

This lake was created by a dam built in the Skagit River in 1930. Set among towering mountains, the turquoise color of the lake is the result of glacial waters that flow into it. A popular overlook is built along the North Cascades Highway, which is said to be one of the most beautiful drives in the world.

The lake — one of 500 in the national forest where it sits — is well known though not easily accessed. Camping is mostly accessible by boat only, and a trail to reach it is seven miles long, both in and back, which ensures visits are quiet and serene.

Location: Diablo Lake in Washington, U.S.

The desert twilight 

A quiver tree forest.

Marco Bottigelli

The quiver trees shown in this sunset image aren’t trees at all, but rather large succulent aloe plants. They are named after the practice of local San bushmen, who once used the plant’s hollowed branches to make quivers for hunting arrows.

With leaves that resemble roots, the trees are famous for looking like they grow upside down. They’ve adapted to the arid conditions of the desert, with thick waxy leaves and branches that are coated in white powder that reflect the sun.

Just a few quiver forests exist in the world, with the one shown here home to plants — known as kokerbooms in Afrikaans — that are estimated to be two to three centuries old. The forest was declared a national monument in 1995.

Location: Quiver Tree Forest near Keetmanshoop, Namibia

Waterfalls 

A lush landscape shaped by the power of water.

Courtesy of Scott Dunn

People have traveled to see this waterfall as far back as 1875, when it was on private property. The family who owned it eventually built a trail for people that led to the falls.

The gorge was formed by flash flooding, which still occurs today. When it happens, the 105-foot gorge fills completely to the top with the falls, spilling enough water to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool every second.

Together with the Geysir geothermal area and Thingvellir National Park, the waterfall forms what is known by travelers as the “Golden Circle” — a popular day trip from Reykjavik. It also graced the cover of Echo & the Bunnymen’s highest-charting album “Porcupine.”

Location: Gullfoss, in southwest Iceland

The ocean blue

Adventure diving 100 feet below the surface.

Rodrigo Friscione

Home to some of the most exciting diving in the world, this island complex boasts manta rays, bottlenose dolphins, great white sharks and massive humpback whales.

Every year, around 1,200 humpback whales migrate to this area of the Pacific Ocean to mate or deliver offspring. Divers have been able to get extraordinarily close to the whales in recent years.

Location: Near Mexico’s Revillagigedo Islands

Coastal beaches

A quiet beach with tide-washed stones.

Destination NSW

Protected on both sides by hills, this quiet beach offers golden sands, rugged scenery and peaceful surroundings. More popular with walkers than swimmers, this deserted piece of paradise sits within Tomaree National Park.

Old-school movie buffs will enjoy the area; “Mad Max” — the raw, 1979 version — was filmed nearby. Travelers with other interests can drop in for World War II relics, whale watching and koala sightings.

Location: Zenith Beach in New South Wales, Australia

Ice and snow 

Cracking ice on a frozen lake.

Anton Petrus

At more than a mile deep, this is the deepest lake in the world. It contains more than 20% of all fresh surface water in the world. A UNESCO World Heritage site, it is home to seals, bears, wolves, elk and reindeer and some 27 islands, the largest of which is 45 miles long and home to 1,500 people.

More than half a million travelers visit the lake every year to skate, fish and hike on the ice, which in the winter can be two meters thick.

Location: Elenda Island on Lake Baikal, Siberia

Starry, starry skies 

Stargazing in the desert dunes.

Westend61

A good night of stargazing depends on the absence of city lights and the luck of a cloudless sky. That’s why the desert has such stellar star-watching potential.

Here, companies arrange stargazing services that start from a one-night sampler to five-day astronomy trips into the dunes to learn about Bedouin mythology and traditions, while sleeping under the stars of Erg Chebbi.

Location: Outside Merzouga, Morocco

Mountain terraces

These mountain rice terraces are a feat of centuries-old engineering.

KingWu

Rice flourishes in submerged water along rainy lowlands and water-logged river deltas. Inhabitants of mountainous estates have to get a little more creative.

Terraced rice fields have existed for centuries in Japan, Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines and many regions in this country.

These fields, nicknamed the Dragon’s Backbone, are estimated to be around 650 years old. Travelers come to hike and photograph the fields, which glimmer with water in the early spring, turn into a sea of emerald green in the summer, and mellow into a golden yellow during the autumn harvest period.

Location: Longsheng, China

Coronavirus shakes markets, but investors are putting money into China

As world markets, especially U.S. markets, tremble on surging cases of the coronavirus, there’s one market seeing investors return: China.

The infection rate of coronavirus has slowed in China, and there appears to be a growing appetite among fund managers to start buying Chinese assets again.

Pinebridge Investments, a New York-based firm, is going “all in.” The firm had total assets under management of $101.3 billion as of the end of last year — including $25.5 billion in stocks and $64.3 billion in fixed income.

“We have recently boosted China A shares from a small single digit starting position to a low double digit weighting,” Michael Kelly, global head of multi-asset at Pinebridge, told CNBC over email. “As a result of COVID-19, the West is now seeing plunging economics through at least (the second quarter), while the East, led by China, is already full of” companies that are showing recovery.

“April macro data will clearly have a better tone for China,” he said, “while beginning a plunge in the West of unknown duration.”

Pinebridge is not alone. UBS Asset Management in late February launched a new Exchange-Traded Fund (ETF) that gets it into China’s onshore stock market. ETFs track benchmarks in the same way mutual funds do, but they trade more actively like stocks.

While not commenting on the launch of the ETF, Kelvin Tay, regional chief investment officer at UBS Global Wealth Management, said he’s upbeat on China. Coal consumption and property sales are almost at 80-90% of prior levels, he said, and the labor market is becoming more active. 

“An estimated 40% of MSCI China’s stocks are technology-related,” he said in an email interview, referring to an index that tracks stocks trading in Shanghai and Shenzhen. “These sectors are far less vulnerable to the economic slowdown as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. We expect the virus to have long term implications in areas including US-China trade, global supply chains, digital infrastructure, and offline to online migration.”

China’s largest market is China … Clearly China’s exports to the West will see no uplift for a while, yet a slow and steady pick up in local demand is capable of bridging the gap.

Michael Kelly

Global Head of Multi-Asset, Pinebridge Investments

China President Xi Jinping gave strong pro-growth signals at last Friday’s Politburo meeting, Goldman Sachs said in a note.

Goldman’s report said Chinese policy is focusing on stimulating demand while stabilizing employment, trade, financial markets and foreign capital.

“China’s largest market is China,” said Kelly of Pinebridge. “A high savings rate will enable recovery for some time. Clearly China’s exports to the West will see no uplift for a while, yet a slow and steady pick up in local demand is capable of bridging the gap.”

Picking sectors

Analysts see opportunities in infrastructure-related themes in China, such as 5G connectivity, semiconductors and healthcare. China’s government spending, at 1% of gross domestic product, lags the U.S. rate of 10%. But China is expected to do more in terms of fixing disrupted supply chains.

Not only Pinebridge’s equities team, but also its fixed income team is also buying China.

Arthur Lau, co-head of emerging market fixed income, said he likes state-owned, investment-grade companies in utilities and financials, with a defensive position in commodities.

In the riskier, high-yield space, where companies are seen as more likely to default, Pinebridge prefers the property sector. With loans available at cheaper rates, the flow of money is seen continuing within that sector.

And then there’s the yuan

Rob Subbaraman, global head of macro research at Nomura, believes China’s yuan will become one of the world’s important reserve currencies. “It is only a matter of time,” he said in an email.

The coronavirus pandemic could speed this process, as could the People’s Bank of China if it follows through on its plan to become one of the first central banks to introduce a digital currency.

But all that said, China is not out of the woods just yet.

“There are still multiple risks and challenges, including a second wave (of COVID-19) as the lockdown eases,” Subbaraman said.

Other risks he cited include a slump in exports of at least 30% year-over-year in the second quarter, rising debt defaults — especially among property developers that have less access to offshore U.S. dollar funding — and the deepening geopolitical rift between China and the United States, which could lead to an escalating economic war.

Coronavirus lockdowns are making the working day longer for many

One upside of working from home in self-isolation is having freed-up time from commuting, but this could also mean we are unintentionally spending more hours at our desks. 

According to an analysis of server activity on its network, NordVPN found that the average working day has increased by three hours in the U.S. since mid-March, when more companies around the world had started to practice working from home due to the widened spread of the coronavirus. 

It found that in the U.K., France, Spain and Canada, people are typically working for two more hours a day since that date. 

Meanwhile, people were working an extra hour in the Netherlands, Denmark, Belgium and Austria on average but the working day had not changed in Italy, which has so far been the worst-hit country in Europe by the virus. 

Gemma Lloyd, co-CEO of global jobs network Work180, said there was a tendency to work longer hours at home as people find it harder to initially adjust and set work-life boundaries. 

A person’s working day is typically structured around getting to and from work, she explained, meaning that without the rush to finish work in order to catch a train home, there is no longer the same urgency. 

But sitting at a desk for hours on end isn’t healthy, she added, and could be detrimental to the quality of employees’ work over time. 

Many people will also be seeking to prove to their employer that they are still working hard, said Molly Johnson-Jones, co-founder of flexible working job platform Flexa. 

Set an alarm 

However, Johnson-Jones said that feeling the need to prove productivity would subside as working from home becomes the norm. 

In order to establish better work-life boundaries, she said that employees should not feel the pressure to work during the time that they normally commute. Instead, they could use this time to do some exercise, make breakfast or spend time with family. 

Similarly, Johnson-Jones suggested taking regular breaks, as while it might seem like an obvious solution, she said “it’s good to be aware of how long you’ve been looking at a screen without a break.” 

Perhaps encouragingly, a recent survey of more than 1,000 full-time workers in the U.S. by American payroll services business Paychex, found that remote employees clocked an average two hours of down-time per day. This was 20 minutes more than the average on-site worker. 

Besides taking regular breaks, Lloyd recommended setting an alarm to stop work at the end of the day. 

“If you still want to work overtime, that’s fine; hit the snooze button — but much like we wouldn’t sleep in too long, don’t work too late,” she said. 

Johnson-Jones urged people to also remember that the current situation of only working from home was not forever and that “sometimes some good can come out of being forced to slow down and adapt.” 

“The lessons learnt can help you to manage your work-life balance in the future too, as you might find that working from home a day or two a week really helps your stress levels or productivity once you’ve mastered it,” she added.

WHO special envoy tells countries to act quickly

Countries need to act fast and stop the coronavirus outbreak inside their borders before it grows into an exponential problem, a special envoy to the World Health Organization told CNBC. 

Global cases of infection have exceeded 784,700 and at least 37,638 people have died, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

The outbreak was first reported in China’s Hubei province late last year. But in March, the infection spread rapidly across the globe and countries like the United States, Italy and Spain saw exponential growth in the number of people affected by the virus and the disease it causes, COVID-19. 

“This set of outbreaks that are making up the pandemic increase in scale exponentially. They double in size every few days, like every three days,” David Nabarro, a special envoy on COVID-19 to the WHO, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Asia” on Tuesday. “Trying to get in ahead of an exponential problem is much easier if you’re dealing with it early on.” 

Countries are being forced to make difficult decisions as they try to contain the virus within their borders. They need to slow down the rate of infection to a level where their health-care systems can handle the strain and treat everyone. To do that, they are implementing strict lockdown measures that disrupt daily life and adversely impact economic activity, affecting businesses and workers alike. 

For example, Italy has been in a national lockdown since early March. People are only allowed to go to pharmacies and small grocery stores, but the country still has the second-largest number of cases and the highest death toll worldwide. 

India last week told most of its 1.3 billion people to stay indoors, which had an immediate impact on daily wage earners, low-income households and small businesses. Cases in India are relatively low so far, likely due to fewer tests being conducted.

But, places like Singapore have so far managed to avoid a total lockdown because of early decisive actions from the government that included rigorous contact tracing and isolation of suspected patients.

“The real point I have to keep on making is when you get an outbreak starting, suppress it quickly. It’s much less costly, it’s much less problem for your economy, you don’t have to do a long lockdown,” Nabarro said.

After implementing a lockdown, countries have to ensure necessary steps are in place such that as soon as the restrictions are lifted, they can quickly identify and isolate infected patients to prevent further transmission, he explained. 

“Act quickly, act decisively, act robustly, so that you’re not caught having to deal with a much bigger, bigger problem two weeks later,” Nabarro said, adding that it would help to limit the “bitter economic medicine that has to be taken.”

WATCH: Can the coronavirus outbreak be contained?

Microsoft jumps 7% as cloud services see pickup

Amy Hood, CFO of Microsoft with Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft.

CNBC

Shares of Microsoft closed up 7% on Monday, outperforming other major technology stocks for the day after the company disclosed a surge in use of its online services.

Microsoft is among those seeing gains by providing software that workers can use to communicate with one another while staying home to reduce spread of the coronavirus, which has taken over 36,000 lives.

Microsoft fields the Teams app that enables people to hold video calls and exchange chat messages. On March 18 Microsoft said Teams had added 12 million more daily users in the course of one week, for a total of 44 million.

On Monday Microsoft introduced a version of its Microsoft 365 bundle that will make Teams available to consumers. 

“We have seen a 775% increase in Teams’ calling and meeting monthly users in a one-month period in Italy, where social distancing or shelter in place orders have been enforced,” Microsoft said on Monday in an update to a blog post that was originally published on Saturday.

People also continue to use the older Skype app, which has 40 million daily users, up 70% from one month ago, Microsoft said. Microsoft’s Windows Virtual Desktop and Power BI services have seen upticks as well, the company said.

Stifel analysts led by Brad Reback flagged the statistics in a note distributed to clients on Monday.

“We believe COVID-19 will continue to accelerate the shift to flexible and scalable cloud services, and we believe Microsoft remains well positioned to capitalize on these trends both in the short term (as evidenced with the aforementioned stats) and long term (as COVID-19 accelerates digital transformation),” the analysts wrote.

Microsoft and a handful of smaller technology names selling products people can use while working from home — RingCentral, Slack, Zoom — have outperformed U.S. indices in recent weeks.

Microsoft is down 1% for the month of March, while the Nasdaq has fallen 9% and the S&P 500 is down 11%. For all of 2020, the S&P 500 and Nasdaq have declined 19% and 13% so far, and Microsoft is up 1.6%.

WATCH: Tech companies partner with WHO for a coronavirus hackathon

Global cases continue to climb

This is a live blog. Please check back for updates.

  • Global cases: More than 782,300
  • Global deaths: At least 37,582
  • Top 5 countries: United States (161,807), Italy (101,739), Spain (87,956), China (82,198), and Germany (66,885)

The data above was compiled by Johns Hopkins University as of 7:42 a.m. Beijing time.

All times below are in Beijing time.

9:26 am: China says manufacturing activity expanded in March, defying expectations of a contraction

China said the official Purchasing Manager’s Index for March was 52.0, beating expectations for an economy hit by the coronavirus outbreak. Analysts polled by Reuters had expected the official PMI to come in at 45 for the month of March, from a record low of 35.7 a month earlier.

China’s manufacturing activity slowed dramatically earlier this year as the government instituted large-scale lockdowns and quarantines to contain the spread of COVID-19. — Huileng Tan

9:23 am: Amazon fires warehouse worker who led Staten Island strike for more coronavirus protection

Amazon confirmed to CNBC that it fired Chris Smalls, a warehouse worker who organized a strike at its Staten Island facility on Monday.

The company said it fired Smalls after he “received multiple warnings for violating social distancing guidelines.”

Smalls and other employees walked out to call attention to the lack of protective measures for workers. They’re also urging Amazon to close the facility after a worker tested positive for the coronavirus. Organizers put the number of strikers around 50, while Amazon said it was less than 15.

“Amazon would rather fire workers than face up to its total failure to do what it should to keep us, our families, and our communities safe,” Smalls said in a statement. “I am outraged and disappointed, but I’m not shocked. As usual, Amazon would rather sweep a problem under the rug than act to keep workers and working communities safe.” — Annie Palmer

8:53 am: Los Angeles halts evictions for people and businesses who can’t pay rent due to COVID-19

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced a halt on eviction in the city for people and businesses who can’t pay rent due to the COVID-19 outbreak in the state of California. Landlords are also barred from raising the rent on rent-stabilized apartments, Garcetti said. 

“If you cannot pay the rent as a result of this emergency, you cannot be evicted,” Garcetti said. Residential tenants have 12 months and commercial tenants will have 3 months to pay after the emergency ends. 

“The money owed by tenants won’t magically disappear, tenants still need to pay the rent if they can,” Garcetti said. — Kif Leswing

8:40 am: ‘Act quickly, act decisively, act robustly’ to stop coronavirus outbreaks, WHO special envoy says

David Nabarro, a special envoy on COVID-19 to the World Health Organization, told CNBC that countries need to act fast and stop the coronavirus outbreak before it grows into an exponential problem.

“This set of outbreaks that are making up the pandemic increase in scale exponentially; they double in size every few days, like every three days,” Nabarro told CNBC’s “Squawk Box” on Tuesday. “Trying to get in ahead of an exponential problem is much easier if you’re dealing with it early on.”

Countries are being forced to make difficult decisions at the moment to try and halt virus from spreading within their borders: They want to slow down the rate of infection to a level where their respective health-care systems can handle the strain. But, to do that, they are being forced to undertake strict lockdown measures that would undoubtedly have a severe impact on their economies. 

“Act quickly, act decisively, act robustly, so that you’re not caught having to deal with a much bigger, bigger problem two weeks later,” Nabarro added. — Saheli Roy Choudhury

8:21 am: China says it had 48 new cases of infection

China’s National Health Commission said there were 48 new cases of infection reported on the mainland, all of which were attributed to travelers who returned from abroad. It added that one person died from the virus in Hubei province, where the outbreak was first reported. China says more than 76,000 cases have recovered from the disease and at least 3,305 died. — Saheli Roy Choudhury

7:19 am: US cases surpass 160,000

The total number of reported cases of coronavirus infection in the United States was at least 161,807, according to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University. Among them, at least 2,978 have died and just over 5,500 people have recovered in the country, the data revealed.

Global cases continued their upward trend, standing at least 782,319 reported instances of infection worldwide, according to JHU. The data also showed the worldwide death toll stood at more than 37,500 as countries continued to implement stricter social distancing measures in an effort to slow the virus’ spread. — Saheli Roy Choudhury

7:10 am: Italy has more than 100,000 cases but says new infections have slowed

In one of the worst-hit countries in the global pandemic, Italy’s health ministry reported that as of 6 p.m. local time on March 30, there were at least 101,739 total cases of infection among its 60 million citizens. But the ministry said the rate of new cases declined; though Reuters reported that could also be due to fewer COVID-19 tests being conducted. 

At least 11,591 people died and about 14,620 have recovered from the illness. 

A woman prays during the Sunday Holy Mass celebrated by priests from the roof of the church San Gabriele dell’Addolorata in Rome on March 29, 2020, amid the spread of the COVID-19 (new coronavirus) pandemic.

Tiziana Fabi | AFP | Getty Images

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte told El Pais newspaper that Italy was “in the most acute phase” of the outbreak and that it was reasonable to believe that the peak was near. But, concerns remain about another surge in the number of cases in the coming days. For its part, Italy is set to extend its nationwide lockdown measures at least until the Easter season, Reuters reported. — Saheli Roy Choudhury

All times below are in Eastern time.

6:41 pm: Department of Defense watchdog appointed inspector general for $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package

The Defense Department’s internal watchdog will serve as newly named chair of the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, a body created to oversee the roughly $2 trillion stimulus deal that President Donald Trump signed into law last week in response to the economic devastation wrought by the coronavirus outbreak.

Glenn Fine, the acting inspector general of the Department of Defense, was appointed by another committee of IGs assigned by the new law to name a chair. 

Fine will oversee a board of fellow inspectors general, all responsible for monitoring their respective departments. They include the Departments of Education, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Justice, Labor, as well as the Treasury, the Small Business Administration and the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. — Lauren Hirsch

6:35 pm: Airbnb extends coronavirus cancellation window to May 31, sets aside $250 million to pay hosts for missed stays

Airbnb announced it will allow guests to receive full refunds for any trips starting on or before May 31 that were booked prior to March 14, as the company continues to struggle through the coronavirus’ impact on the travel industry. The company will also set aside $250 million to pay hosts for the missed bookings.

Airbnb announced the decision in a letter sent to hosts in an effort to rebuild Airbnb’s relationship with its partners. Previously, the company had said that it would allow guests to cancel and receive full refunds for trips between March 14 and April 14.

That decision overrode many hosts’ existing cancellation policies that ensured they still received partial payments for those bookings. Many hosts harshly criticized Airbnb for that decision, and several told CNBC that they would be moving their properties onto other websites and into the long-term rental market. — Sal Rodriguez

6:27 pm: Field hospital goes up in New York City’s Central Park

Amazon fires Staten Island coronavirus strike leader Chris Smalls

Amazon has fired a Staten Island warehouse worker who organized a strike to demand greater protections for employees amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Chris Smalls, a management assistant at the facility, known as JFK8, said he was fired Monday afternoon following the strike. Smalls and other employees walked out to call attention to the lack of protections for warehouse workers. The workers are also urging Amazon to close the facility after a worker tested positive for the coronavirus last week. The organizers said that at least 50 people joined the walkout.

“Amazon would rather fire workers than face up to its total failure to do what it should to keep us, our families, and our communities safe,” Smalls said in a statement. “I am outraged and disappointed, but I’m not shocked. As usual, Amazon would rather sweep a problem under the rug than act to keep workers and working communities safe.” 

An Amazon spokesperson confirmed to CNBC that Smalls was fired, saying he received “multiple warnings” for violating social distancing guidelines and refusing to remain quarantined after coming into close contact with an associate who tested positive for the virus. 

“Despite that instruction to stay home with pay, he came onsite today, March 30, further putting the teams at risk,” the spokesperson said. “This is unacceptable and we have terminated his employment as a result of these multiple safety issues.”

Amazon also disputed the number of employees that participated in the strike, saying 15 people walked out at the facility. The company called the workers’ accusations “unfounded” and said it has taken “extreme measures” to make sure employees are safe while on the job.

“Like all businesses grappling with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, we are working hard to keep employees safe while serving communities and the most vulnerable,” the company said in a statement. “The truth is the vast majority of employees continue to show up and do the heroic work of delivering for customers every day.”

Still, Amazon employees at multiple facilities who spoke to CNBC argue that the company’s efforts aren’t enough to keep them safe. They say uneven safety precautions at facilities across the country have sown feelings of distrust between workers and their managers. Workers say they’ve become worried that managers aren’t being honest about whether employees are sick with the virus, so that they can keep the facilities open. 

At some facilities, workers say essential supplies like hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes are rationed or there’s none available, putting them at risk of catching the virus. Warehouse workers say they’re forced to choose between going to work and risking their health or staying home and not being able to pay their bills.