Caixin
Feb 28, 2020 09:50 PM
SOCIETY & CULTURE

Coronavirus Live Updates | Friday: WHO Declares Coronavirus a ‘Global Level’ Threat; OPEC Mulls Bigger Output Reduction; Fed Considers Rate Cut

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China is grappling with a new coronavirus epidemic that began in December and has since spread to countries around the world. While the country has made headway in controlling the virus’s spread, the picture abroad is less positive as hotspots emerge in a number of other nations, including Japan, South Korea, Italy and Iran.

Caixin Global will continue covering this story as it develops. Please check back regularly for updates.

Caixin’s coverage of the new coronavirus

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Friday, Feb. 28, 12:00 p.m.

The World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a “global level” threat as more countries reported their first coronavirus cases. Countries other than China now account for about three-quarters of new infections. Global stock markets are on track for their worst week since the 2008 financial crisis as pandemic fears heighten, prompting major oil producers to mull bigger output cuts and the U.S. central bank to consider a rate cut.

WHO raised coronavirus threat assessment to its highest level. WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters in Geneva that the risk of spread and impact of the coronavirus is now very high at a “global level.”

Mexico confirmed its first case of infection, a young male who recently travelled to Italy, making the country the second in Latin America to register the virus after Brazil. The patient in Brazil has also recently been to Italy.

South Korea, the hardest-hit country apart from China, added more than 500 new cases for a second consecutive day, with 2,337 confirmed cases as of Friday.

Korean authorities are scrambling to track down almost 3,000 members of a religious group after hundreds of its members were confirmed with infection.

South Korea injected more than $13 billion in emergency funds to provide financial support to businesses and individuals suffering from the epidemic, The Wall Street Journal reported. Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki said Friday that he would push the National Assembly to approve another 6 trillion won ($5 billion) in emergency aid soon.

Meanwhile, the South Korean government’s response to the outbreak has drawn criticism. More than 1.2 million citizens have signed a petition asking for President Moon Jae-in’s impeachment over his handling of the epidemic.

• A woman in her 70s is the fifth passenger on the Diamond Princess cruise ship to die from the novel coronavirus, Japan’s Health Ministry said Friday. At least 705 people from the ship contracted the virus during the quarantine. Japan has now confirmed 10 deaths from the coronavirus.

• Countries are taking precautions to prevent the spread of the virus. Bulgaria is deploying up to 1,000 troops and military equipment to the border with Turkey to prevent illegal migrant inflows. Both countries have not reported any cases.

Mongolia, which has yet to confirm a case, placed its president, Battulga Khaltmaa, in quarantine as a precaution after he returned from a trip to China, state media reported.

• The Geneva Motor Show, one of the world’s biggest car shows, has been canceled because of coronavirus fears. The move comes as the Swiss government imposes a ban on large-scale events with more than 1,000 people attending, at least until March 15. Switzerland has 15 reported cases.

• Several key OPEC members are leaning toward a bigger than previously expected oil output cut, Reuters reported, citing sources with knowledge of the talks. Saudi Arabia and some other members are considering an output cut of 1 million barrels per day in the second quarter of 2020, more than an initially-proposed cut of 600,000 barrels per day.

Federal Reserve rate cuts are “a possibility” if the outbreak of coronavirus intensifies into a global pandemic with death rates approaching yearly flu outbreaks, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis President James Bullard said Friday. This is the U.S. central bank’s most explicit statement yet on how the epidemic is influencing its thinking.

• A new research article found four recovered patients tested positive repeatedly, suggesting the epidemic may be even harder to eradicate than previously thought. The four patients, who are all medical workers infected during their work, had three repeat tests after their hospital discharge or discontinuation of quarantine, and all were positive, according to the article authored by a team led by radiologist Xu Haibo at Zhongnan Hospital of Wuhan University. The article was published Thursday in The Journal of the American Medical Association.

The article reaffirmed earlier findings that about 14% of recovered patients in southern China’s Guangdong province tested positive again in later check-ups.

Compiled by Denise Jia

More diagnosed cases of the respiratory disease Covid-19 were added outside of China on Friday than in the country where that disease first started its deadly spread.

Already-stretched health systems in the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa were threatened with the damaging burden of handling a disease that by some estimates sees one in six sufferers hospitalized. Iran’s death toll in particular increased by 34, the highest by far of the nearly 50 other countries the disease has reached.

Japanese island declares emergency as Abe calls for school closures

The Japanese island of Hokkaido that has reported 60 cases of coronavirus in recent weeks declared a state of emergency Friday, NHK reported. Hokkaido Governor Naomichi Suzuki asked residents to remain inside over the weekend. The announcement came after a cluster of at least six Covid-19 cases were linked (link in Japanese) to an exhibition hall in the city of Kitami.

Japanese parents expressed anger and frustration at Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s call to close all schools in a bid to control the virus’s spread, Reuters reported.

Japan on Thursday recorded its 200th coronavirus infection not linked to the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which was placed under quarantine in Yokohama earlier this month.

Hong Kong quarantines pets

Hong Kong health authorities are quarantining all dogs, cats and other mammals belonging to people diagnosed with Covid-19 as a precaution after a dog owned by one patient tested a “weak positive” for the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes it, the South China Morning Post reported. “From now on, as a precaution, we will ask the owners to surrender their cat or dog to the (authorities) for quarantine,” Dr. Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the communicable disease branch of Hong Kong’s Centre for Health Protection, told the paper.

Experts say there is still no evidence pets are capable of contracting or spreading the disease.

• A Caixin investigation found that as early as December, researchers in multiple labs around China tested samples from patients with unexplained viral pneumonia and found the cause was a virus similar to SARS, weeks before officials publicly identified it as such. Soon after, health authorities gagged them.

• Chinese authorities are investigating how an elderly prisoner freed from a disease-hit jail in the locked-down city of Wuhan managed to travel to Beijing, where she tested positive for the deadly new coronavirus sometime after her return on Saturday. The case raised questions about the effectiveness of China’s quarantines and marked the second time in a week the country’s opaque prison system has come under scrutiny for its handling of the crisis.

• Iran cancelled Friday prayers for the first time in decades due to a local coronavirus outbreak that has sparked fears of a regional pandemic. Iran had 388 confirmed cases as of Friday and 34 deaths, by far the highest death toll outside of China.

• In a display of boundless optimism, more than 300 Chinese tourist spots have reopened, and some online travel agents even relaunched group bookings on their platforms. The move comes on the back of hopes that millions of Chinese people who have spent much of the last month voluntarily confined to their homes will start to plan trips for upcoming holidays in April and May.

• Medical experts weighed in on reports that a handful of people were reinfected with the coronavirus after they had recovered, saying while not impossible, the cases were likely to be due to complexities in testing. Patients may have initially been discharged from the hospital after returning a false negative, or they may have tested positive even though they only had “non-viable” or dead virus fragments in their system, epidemiologists told Caixin.

• Wales has confirmed its first case of coronavirus in an adult patient from Swansea who traveled back from northern Italy, the BBC reported. Nineteen people have now tested positive in the U.K., including one in Northern Ireland on Thursday, as well as two new cases in England on Friday.

America’s largest overseas military base is in lockdown. Camp Humphreys, 40 miles south of Seoul, is screening all entrants for symptoms of the virus and could ban civilian employees from entering, the Financial Times reported. The restrictions apply to all U.S. bases in South Korea, which together house around 28,500 American troops.

• South Korea’s case count grew at its highest rate on Friday as the Centers for Disease Control Korea reported 315 more cases in the afternoon, bringing the one day total to 571. The death toll remained unchanged at 13.

• Shares in British Airways’ parent IAG SA crashed when the company said it wouldn’t be able to provide an earnings forecast this year, according to Bloomberg. EasyJet PLC also reported a softening in demand while Finnair revised down its outlook, citing the virus’s unexpected economic impact. Singapore Airlines Ltd. announced its CEO would take a 15% pay cut as of March, while Philippine Air sacked 300 staff.

Market impact

Equity markets tumbled in Asia and Europe on Friday and U.S. futures weakened, while yields on U.S. Treasurys maturing in two and five years slid to their lowest since 2016, Bloomberg reported.

Compiled by Flynn Murphy

Friday, Feb. 28, 11 a.m.

In China

• As of the end of Thursday, China confirmed 78,959 cases including 329 new cases, according to the latest data (link in Chinese) from the country’s top health body. It is the smallest daily increase since Jan. 23 and the fifth day that the number of newly detected infections has been below 600, suggesting the spread of the virus in China is slowing.

The Chinese mainland reported 44 additional deaths, bringing its total to 2,788. Of the total, 41 new deaths were reported in Hubei, two were in Beijing, and one in Xinjiang. The mainland’s suspected cases grew by 452, to a total of 2,308, resetting several days of declines. It also recorded 3,622 additional recoveries, for a total of 36,117. The total number of recoveries suggests nearly half of Covid-19 patients in the mainland have recovered.

Hong Kong reported two additional cases, bringing its total to 93, while its death toll remained at two. Macao’s tally remained at 10 cases, though it reported an additional recovery, and Taiwan’s number of infections remained stable at 32, with one death.

A pet dog of a coronavirus patient in Hong Kong has been found to have a “low level” of the virus, the Hong Kong government said early Friday.

The dog is undergoing further tests to determine whether it has really been infected with the disease, according to the city’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department.

Outside of China

Nigeria has become the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to confirm a case of Covid-19 after an Italian citizen who works in the country returned from Milan, according to the country’s health minister Osagie Ehanire.

“The patient is clinically stable, with no serious symptoms, and is being managed at the Infectious Disease Hospital in Yaba, Lagos,” Ehanire said.

South Africa announced that the country is preparing to repatriate its citizens from Wuhan in Hubei province, ground zero of the epidemic.

The South African government estimates that there are 199 South African citizens in Wuhan, of whom 132 have expressed the desire to be repatriated. Those people are currently living under lockdown conditions following the outbreak of the coronavirus. None have been diagnosed with the virus or have exhibited symptoms, the statement said. Upon arrival in South Africa, they will be placed in quarantine for 21 days as an additional precautionary measure.

Russia received a rare rebuke from China over its surveillance of Chinese nationals in the country.

In a letter to the Moscow city authorities, the Chinese Embassy in Russia demanded they end what are described as “discriminatory anti-coronavirus measures” and “ubiquitous monitoring” of Chinese nationals, Reuters reported, adding that such actions are damaging relations between the countries.

Authorities in Moscow have previously carried out raids of those suspected of being infected at their homes and hotels, in some cases using facial recognition technology.

Just last week, China’s foreign ministry played up cooperation between the two countries after Russia announced it was indefinitely banning all Chinese citizens from entering the country.

Japan’s education minister has urged all elementary, junior, and high schools to close through their spring break, which usually ends in early April and heralds the start of a new school year.

Japanese scientists have developed a coronavirus testing kit they say can speed up screening times from 6 hours to 30 minutes. The health ministry says it will be available as of March.

IOC President Thomas Bach says he is “committed” to the July 24 start date for the Tokyo Olympics.

Market impact

• The Nikkei fell at least 763.46 points after opening Friday.

• Starbucks has said that the effects of the epidemic are weakening, and that 85% of its stores in China have resumed business.

Compiled by Dave Yin

 Read more
Coronavirus Thursday Update: WHO Says Coronavirus Outbreak at ‘Decisive Point’; Iran Vice President Tested Positive

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