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Monday Update

Daily Business Live: SE suspends fund applications

5.30pm: Applications suspended

Scottish Enterprise has been forced to suspend a new fund to help cash-strapped businesses after being swamped with applications.

Full story here

Delayed fund might tip firms over the edge

4.45pm: London close

Investors seemed to have priced in concern over US-China tensions as the FTSE 100 closed barely unmoved at 5,753.78 −9.28 (0.16%).

2.15pm: New Virgin Money chairman

Virgin Money

Virgin Money has announced that current deputy chairman David Bennett will succeed retiring chairman Jim Pettigrew who announced in January his intention to step down.

Mr Bennett has been deputy chairman and a non-executive director of the company since October 2015 and senior independent director since January 2017.

Full story here

10.15am: New Zealand reports zero Covid cases

New Zealand today reported no new cases of coronavirus for the first time. 

The number of ‘confirmed and probable’ infections remains at 1,487 and the death toll was also unchanged at just 20, while only four people are currently in hospital, none of them in intensive care. 

New Zealand confirmed its first case on 26 February and shut borders on 19 March, followed by a full-scale lockdown on 26 March. Early action, particularly the travel ban, has been credited with the low figures. Australia also benefited from closing its borders early. 

See also: Early travel bans ease crisis

10am: Love Island off air

ITV has pulled the plug on its popular series Love Island for this year.

The company said it was logistically impossible to safeguard ‘the wellbeing of everyone involved’ amid the ongoing global coronavirus pandemic. 

Fans have been assured the dating programme, which was due to begin filming in June, will be back next year’.

9.30am Lidl store hit by Coronavirus

Lidl has become the first supermarket in Britain to close one of its branches following an outbreak of coronavirus.

Several staff members at the outlet in Middlesbrough were diagnosed with the bug.

It was not known how many members of staff tested positive. 

8.15am: London open

The FTSE 100 has fallen as predicted following further tensions between the US and China (see below).

The index was down 0.9% in early trade to 5,709 points.

7.30am: Withers on food and drink action

James Withers

James Withers, chief executive of Scotland Food and Drink, says producers, which are limited in their ability to furlough staff because of the vital role they are playing in keeping the supply chain intact, should be supported with wage subsidies, as is happening in Ireland and Canada.

Full story here

7am: Pendragon and Lookers talks

The board of motor dealer Pendragon, which owns the Evans Halshaw chain, has confirmed speculation that it held “outline discussions” about a merger with Lookers, but said these talks have ceased.

In a statement, Pendragon said the talks explored the potential benefits of a combination of the two businesses and how this could be attractive to both sets of shareholders.”

It added: While Pendragon believed that such an exploration would have proved beneficial, these early discussions have now ceased.

“Pendragon remains well-positioned having already taken significant steps to reshape the business and to cut costs both in advance, and as a result, of the recent events which have temporarily curtailed business activity.

“And, as previously announced, Pendragon continues to benefit from the support of its stakeholders during the current disruption.”

Airport queues ‘kilometre long’

Implementing social distancing at airports would require kilometre-long queues for each jumbo jet, according to the chief executive of Heathrow in London.

John Holland-Kaye writes in The Daily Telegraph: “Forget social distancing, it won’t work in aviation or any other form of public transport, and the problem is not the plane, it is the lack of space in the airport. Just one jumbo jet would require a queue a kilometre long.”

Mr Holland-Kaye called on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to quickly find a “common international standard” of alternative solutions that could be installed in time for summer.

Immunity tests

A “fast and accurate” coronavirus antibody test has been developed by scientists in Edinburgh, although the company fears the NHS could miss out amid interest in Europe for the machines.

Blood-screening company Quotient has developed a test for whether people are immune to Covid-19 by spotting whether a person has developed antibodies to the disease.

The firm said each machine has capacity for up to 3,000 tests a day and produces results in 35 minutes with 99.8% accuracy. The company behind the tests says it has 12 screening machines available, with a further 20 expected to be ready by the end of the year.

Today’s key Daily Business headlines:

Profit warnings rocket as ‘true test yet to come’

House builders ‘want to follow English return to work’

Textile firm switches to face mask fabric production

Workers may stagger start times to avoid crowding

Tommy looks Wright for Northern Ireland job

6.30am: Markets shaken by US-China tension

The FTSE 100 looks set to open lower as America cranks up accusations that China was the origin of the coronavirus.

Comments from US secretary of state Mike Pompeo that he has seen evidence the outbreak emanated from a facility in Wuhan have ramped up the tension.

This adds to concern that President Trump will introduce fresh tariffs on China only weeks after agreeing a first phase deal that signalled an easing of the trade war.

The latest spat drove oil prices lower. US West Texas Intermediate futures fell as low as $18.10 a barrel. Brent crude futures were down 24 cents, or 0.9%, at $26.20, after touching a low of $25.50. Brent rose about 23% last week following three consecutive weeks of losses.

In Asia, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index tumbled 3.8% on the US accusations. Investor sentiment was also dented by data that showed factory output plunged in the first quarter.

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