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Hong Kong police briefly turn water cannon on protesters, fire tear gas

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Protesters gather in Kwai Fong in Hong Kong on August 24, 2019.

LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA | AFP | Getty Images

Hong Kong police briefly fired water cannon and volleys of tear gas to force back brick-throwing protesters on Sunday after violent clashes a day earlier during which police also fired tear gas for the first time in more than a week.

At least one petrol bomb was thrown by protesters. The water cannon, which had not been used in years of anti-government protests, soon pulled away.

The Chinese-ruled city’s MTR rail operator suspended some services to try to prevent people gathering but protesters made it to a sports stadium in the vast container port of Kwai Chung, from where they marched to nearby Tsuen Wan.

Some dug up bricks from the pavement and wheeled them away to use as ammunition, others sprayed detergent on the road to make it slippery for the lines of police. Clashes spread in many directions.

Police had warned earlier they would launch a “dispersal operation” and told people to leave.

“Some radical protesters have removed railings … and set up barricades with water-filled barriers, bamboo sticks, traffic cones and other objects,” they said in a statement.

“Such acts neglect the safety of citizens and road users, paralysing traffic in the vicinity,” the statement said.

Activists threw petrol bombs and bricks on Saturday in the gritty industrial district of Kwun Tong, on the east of the Kowloon peninsula.

The vast majority marched peacefully on Sunday.

‘Last Chance’

M. Sung, a 53-year-old software engineer in a black mask emblematic of the many older, middle-class citizens at the march, said he had been at almost every protest and would keep coming.

“We know this is the last chance to fight for ‘one country, two systems’, otherwise the Chinese Communist Party will penetrate our home city and control everything,” he said.

“If we keep a strong mind, we can sustain this movement for justice and democracy. It won’t die,” Sung said.

Protesters say they are fighting the erosion of the “one country, two systems” arrangement under which the former British colony returned to China in 1997 with the promise of continued freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland.

The protests, which started over a now-suspended extradition bill and evolved into demands for greater democracy, have rocked Hong Kong for three months and plunged the city into its biggest political crisis since the handover.

They also pose a direct challenge for Communist Party leaders in Beijing, who are eager to quell the unrest ahead of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China on Oct. 1.

Beijing has sent a clear warning that forceful intervention is possible, with paramilitary forces holding drills just over the border.

Transport to the airport appeared normal on Sunday, despite protesters’ plans for a day-long “stress test” of transport in the international aviation and financial hub.

Police said they strongly condemned protesters “breaching public peace” and that 19 men and 10 women had been arrested after Saturday’s violence. More than 700 have been arrested since the demonstrations began in June.

The neighbouring gambling territory of Macau, a former Portuguese colony that returned to Chinese rule in 1999, elected former legislature head Ho Iat Seng as its leader on Sunday – the sole approved candidate.

Ho, who has deep ties to China, is expected to cement Beijing’s control over the “special administrative region”, the same status given to Hong Kong, and distance it from the unrest there.

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Global reported cases head toward 1 million

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

All times below are in Beijing time.

7:30 am: Singapore has 1,000 reported cases

Based on the latest reported figures from the health ministry, Singapore now has 1,000 recorded instances of COVID-19 infection. The city-state had been praised for its handling of the crisis in January and February by implementing strict measures to quarantine suspected cases and contact tracing for potential exposure to the coronavirus. 

Social distancing markers are seen at a cafe outlet as authorities implement a social distancing measures to combat the coronavirus on March 28, 2020 in Singapore.

Suhaimi Abdullah | Getty Images

But, the number of cases in Singapore has grown in recent weeks as more residents returned from abroad and tested positive. As of April 1, noon local time, the country reported 74 new cases of COVID-19 infection, of which 20 were “imported,” 29 were linked to previous clusters and 25 had no apparent links discovered yet. 

Three people have died from the disease in Singapore;  245 patients have been discharged and another 291 remain clinically well but isolated as they still test positive for the virus. — Saheli Roy Choudhury

7:24 am: Global cases top 930,000 as death toll nears 47,000

As many as 932,605 cases of coronavirus infection have been recorded around the world and at least 46,809 people have died, according to the latest information compiled by Johns Hopkins University. The United States reported the most number of infections at 213,372, while Italy’s death toll remains the highest for a single country at 13,155. At least 193,177 people appeared to have recovered. 

Italy and Spain each have reported more than 100,000 infection cases as the coronavirus pandemic shows few signs of abating. — Saheli Roy Choudhury

All times below are in Eastern time.

7:05 pm: Updated map of US cases, which now total 213,372

7:02 pm: Trump says that the government ordered hospital gowns from Walmart

President Donald Trump said that he spoke to Walmart CEO Doug McMillon and put in a “big big order” for gowns.

“Let it be shipped directly to the side of the hospital because we save a lot of time when we do that,” Trump said.

Doctors, nurses, and healthcare workers around the country have called for more “PPE” or personal protective equipment like gowns and facemasks to protect them from the coronavirus while working at hospitals. — Kif Leswing

6:34 pm: Trump says he doesn’t know if China underreported coronavirus numbers: ‘I’m not an accountant from China’

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Coronavirus, global economy, currencies in focus

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Stocks in Asia were set to trade lower at the open on Thursday as markets globally continue their rocky start to the second quarter.

The S&P/ASX 200 fell about 2.97% in early trade as almost all the sectors saw losses. The heavily-weighted financial subindex dropped about 4.9% as shares of the country’s major banks sold off.

Meanwhile, futures pointed to a lower open for Japanese stocks. The Nikkei futures contract in Chicago was at 17,920 while its counterpart in Osaka was at 17,600. That compared against the Nikkei 225’s last close at 18,065.41.

Markets in India are closed on Thursday for a holiday.

Concerns over the economic impact of the global coronavirus pandemic, which has roiled markets in recent weeks, continue to weigh on investor sentiment. The rapid spread of the disease across the world has resulted in drastic measures by authorities such as widespread lockdowns that have left economies effectively frozen in many places globally.

So far, more than 932,000 people have been infected worldwide while at least 42,000 lives have been taken by the virus, according to data compiled by John Hopkins University.

Overnight stateside, the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed 973.65 points lower at 20,943.51 while the S&P 500 slid about 4.41% to end its trading day at 2,470.50. The Nasdaq Composite also shed 4.41% to close at about 7,360.58.

The U.S. dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of its peers, was at 99.673 after rising from levels below 99 earlier this week.

The Japanese yen traded at 107.25 per dollar following lows above 108 seen earlier in the week. The Australian dollar changed hands at $0.608 after slipping from levels above $0.612 yesterday.

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Stock futures positive as market tries to rebound from second quarter’s rocky start

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U.S. stock futures rose in overnight trading and pointed to gains at the open on Thursday, as markets try to rebound after kicking off the second quarter in the red.

Dow futures rose 104 points, indicating a 41-point gain at the open on Thursday. The S&P 500 and Nasdaq Composite were also set to open modestly higher.

Stocks posted steep losses on Wednesday to begin the second quarter, as the coronavirus outbreak continues to wreak havoc on global markets.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed 4.4%, or 973.65 points, lower at 20,943.51. The S&P 500 and Nasdaq Composite also closed 4.4% lower, at 2,470.50 and 7,360.58, respectively. Stock losses accelerated minutes before the close, although the major averages did manage to end the session off the lows of the day. The Dow briefly fell more than 1,100 points.

The utilities, real estate and financials sectors dragged the S&P 500 lower, while Boeing and American Express were the Dow’s biggest underperformers, falling 12% and 9%, respectively.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday he is closing all New York City playgrounds, and said that the state’s model projects a high death rate through July. He also said cases in New York state now total more than 83,000.

His comments came after President Donald Trump said Tuesday evening that the U.S. should prepare for a “very, very painful two weeks.” White House officials are projecting between 100,000 and 240,000 virus deaths in the U.S.

The coronavirus outbreak, which sent global markets tumbling in the first quarter, continues to act as a headwind for the market as investors grapple with the ongoing uncertainty around how long the economy will be closed.

“While April will be an extremely volatile month in terms of both the news flow and stock market reactions, I do think many are anticipating this,” Bleakley Advisory Group chief investment officer Peter Boockvar said Wednesday. “What is not priced in I believe because it’s obviously hugely unknown is what is on the other end come May. How contained will this virus spread be by then? To what extent will things begin to reopen, if at all?” 

On Tuesday, the Dow and S&P 500 closed out their worst first-quarter performances of all time. The Dow fell more than 23% in the first quarter; that was also its biggest quarterly fall since 1987. The S&P 500 fell 20% in the first quarter, its biggest quarterly loss since 2008.

“While we have not seen announcements yet, dividend cuts could be on the horizon for U.S. companies,” said New York Life Investments multi-asset portfolio strategist Lauren Goodwin.

“With a heavy hit to revenues, businesses may opt to prioritize employees and lower borrowing loads over paying dividends. This could present a risk for equities. Announcements of temporary (1-2 quarters) of dividend cuts could be priced in, but longer cuts would likely contribute to negative sentiment,” she added.

Amid the market rout, Congress passed a massive $2 trillion stimulus package in an effort to halt the economic slowdown caused by the pandemic. Already, there are calls for even more stimulus.

Boston Federal Reserve President Eric Rosengren said Wednesday that Congress likely will have to deliver more stimulus to help those at the lower end of the economic spectrum and to boost small business.

Unemployment is likely to “rise pretty dramatically over the next couple of months” and the economic damage won’t abate until the coronavirus is brought under control, he said. “I don’t think we’ll turn a corner until people feel comfortable taking mass transit again,” he said.

– CNBC’s Jeffrey Cox and Nate Rattner contributed reporting.

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