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US needs Europe to tackle the rise of China, NATO chief says

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NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told CNBC that if the U.S. is concerned about the rise of China then it was “even more important to maintain NATO to keep your friends and allies close.”

The head of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was responding to U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper’s speech at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday, in which he called China a rising threat to the world order.

Stoltenberg acknowledged that the global balance of power was shifting with the rise of China, pointing out that it now has the second-largest defense budget in the world and that it’s “investing heavily in new military capabilities.”

The alliance put the issue of China on its agenda for the very first time at an event in London in December. At the time, Stoltenberg told CNBC that the rise of the Asian powerhouse provided some “obvious opportunities but also some obvious challenges.”

In March 2019, China set its 2019 defense spending 7.5% higher than a year ago, raising it to 1.19 trillion yuan ($177.61 billion), according to known figures (some believe the actual figure could be higher). This still lags behind U.S. spending, however, with its Defense Department having asked Congress for $718 billion in its fiscal 2020 budget.

Stoltenberg said Saturday that the “important message” for the U.S. was that if it was concerned about China then it needed its allies. “Together with Europe and Canada we represent 50% of the world’s military might and 50% of the world economy. Together we are strong,” he told CNBC’s Hadley Gamble.

Jens Stoltenberg, 13th Secretary General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, is talks to the media at the NATO headquarter on February 11, 2020 in Brussels, Belgium.

Thierry Monasse/ Getty Images

German defense spending

Meanwhile, Stoltenberg suggested he was not concerned by recent data showing weaker economic growth in Germany and the possible impact that would have on its defense spending as part of NATO. He said Germany had already started to increase its defense spending and that it planned to increase this by 80% over a decade.

The secretary general said that European allies and Canada will add $400 billion to their defense spending by 2024. “When it comes to defense spending, we’re already moving in the right direction,” he added.

On the Middle East, the NATO chief said the alliance would look to reduce its troops in Afghanistan, from the 16,000 currently based in the country, “if Taliban believers are ready to reduce the violence.”

He said that the only way to create lasting peace in Afghanistan was to talk to the Taliban and that the purpose of truce talks currently taking place was also to “initiate inter-Afghan negotiations.”

Stoltenberg said NATO’s role was to support Afghans to take ownership of the peace process, “sending a message to the Taliban that they will never win on the battlefield, they have to sit at the negotiating table and (make) real compromises and reduce violence.”

—CNBC’s Holly Ellyatt contributed to this article.

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White House advisor Fauci says coronavirus vaccine trial is on target and will be ‘ultimate game changer’

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Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks during a Coronavirus Task Force news conference at the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, March 31, 2020.

Chris Kleponis | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The first human trial testing a potential vaccine to prevent COVID-19 is “on track” with public distribution still projected in 12 to 18 months, which would be the “ultimate game changer” in the fight against the pandemic, White House health advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said Wednesday.

U.S. health officials have been fast-tracking work with biotech company Moderna to develop a vaccine to prevent COVID-19. They began their first human trials on a potential vaccine March 16. 

The trial had to test three different doses of the vaccine, Fauci said, adding that they’ve already tested the first two doses and are now administering the highest dose to human volunteers to see if there are any adverse reactions to it.

“It’ll take a few months to get the data to where we’ll feel confident to go to the phase two, and then a few months from now we’ll be in phase two and I think we’re right on target for the year to year and a half,” Fauci said at a White House press conference with President Donald Trump’s coronavirus task force.

Fauci said world health leaders dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, which has infected more than 932,000 people globally, have all agreed that COVID-19 may cycle back in future seasons, and the only protection would be the development of a vaccine. 

“The ultimate solution to a virus that might be coming back would be a vaccine,” Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said. “The same way a vaccine for other diseases that were scourges in the past that now we don’t even worry about.” 

Dr. Deborah Birx, the coronavirus task force coordinator, said she’s been asking universities and private companies to develop rapid coronavirus tests to confirm whether health-care workers that have been treating coronavirus patients already have the antibodies to fight it.

She said the U.S. owes it to health-care workers — many of whom have been treating coronavirus patients for a month now — “the peace of mind that would come from knowing that you already were infected, you have the antibody, you’re safe from reinfection 99.9% of the time.” She said U.S. universities can get those tests out by Friday.

However, Fauci said that it’s not their priority right now. The main focus is to develop widespread testing for somebody who is infected so they can conduct better case finding and isolation.

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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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