Mar 05, 2020 03:44 AM

Coronavirus Live Updates (Wednesday): IMF Offers $50 Billion in Epidemic Relief; Pet Dog in Hong Kong Tests Positive



Caixin’s coverage of the new coronavirus

Thursday, March 5, 2:00 a.m.

More new cases of Covid-19 appeared in the U.S., the U.K., France and Italy as the patient count continued surging outside China.

The U.S. infection total reached 129 with cases reported on both coasts. Four new cases were reported in New York involving a family in Westchester County and their neighbor, while Los Angeles declared an emergency after six new cases were found over the last 48 hours.

The case count in the U.K. jumped by 34 to a total of 85, prompting Parliament to discuss contingency plans. In France, 45 new cases were added, bringing the total to 257 as of Wednesday.

Italy, the European hotspot of the outbreak, reported 20 new deaths Wednesday, adding the total of fatalities to 107. The number of infections rose to 3,089. The country ordered a nationwide closing of schools and universities until March 15 to curb the spread of the virus.

As the outbreak rattles the global economy, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) unveiled a $50 billion aid package to help fight the coronavirus, including $10 billion at zero interest for the poorest nations.

The global economic outlook has shifted to “more-dire scenarios” as the coronavirus spreads worldwide, said IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva at an event in Washington, D.C.

“We are faced with a generalized weakening in demand, and that goes through confidence and through spillover channels, including trade and tourism, commodity prices, tightened financial conditions,” Georgieva said.

The European Commission warned that a prolonged outbreak would threaten to plunge France and Italy into recession, Bloomberg reported. The two countries could fall into a technical recession ― two straight quarters of contraction ― after both economies shrank at the end of last year, the Commission said.

“A longer and more widespread epidemic could have a disproportionate negative impact through uncertainty and financial-market channels,” the Commission said in a briefing note.

In other coronavirus news:

• A dog belonging to a coronavirus patient tested positive with the virus, Hong Kong authorities confirmed. The case, the first of its kind, suggested the possibility that the virus can be transmitted from humans to other spices, said Zhu Huachen, a virologist at Hong Kong University. Researchers need to study how the virus could mutate during the process and further spread, Zhu said. The dog, showing no particular symptoms, remains in quarantine.

• Scientists in China found two main strains of Covid-19 based on data from 103 publicly available gene sequences for the virus. The preliminary study found that a more aggressive strain accounted for about 70% of analyzed cases, while 30% were linked to a less aggressive type.

The prevalence of the more aggressive virus type decreased after early January, the research found.

Compiled by Han Wei

Wednesday, March 4, 8 p.m.

Global cases of coronavirus eclipsed 93,000 on Wednesday, with the death toll rising above 3,200. Outbreaks in Iran, Italy and South Korea continued to spiral.

China’s car industry, already battered by economic headwinds through last year, reported a staggering 80% drop in sales for February, according to early figures released Wednesday by the China Passenger Car Association.

Meanwhile a Caixin survey showed the nation’s services sector contracted at its steepest pace in 14 years last month.

And an investigation showed how pressure on local officials to meet tough back-to-work targets has forced some to inflate electricity-use statistics and other metrics.

In other coronavirus news

• Leaving lights and air conditioners on all day in empty offices, turning on equipment, faking staff rosters and even coaching factory workers to lie to inspectors are just some ways China’s flashy back-to-work statistics are being manufactured, a Caixin investigation found.

• Iran temporarily released about 54,000 low-level prisoners in order to prevent the spread of infection in the nation’s jails. Iran was thought to have about 240,000 prisoners as of mid-2019. The country has confirmed more than 2,922 cases of coronavirus and around 92 deaths, including 15 more today, Bloomberg reported. The capital, Tehran, is believed to have more than 1,000 cases (link in Chinese).

• Singapore has extended its travel ban to people who have been in Iran, South Korea and northern Italy in the prior 14 days. It previously only applied to Chinese citizens and people who recently visited the Chinese mainland. From 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday, nobody with that travel history will be allowed to enter or even transit through the city state.

• China’s services sector contracted at its steepest pace in more than 14 years last month, with the gauges for total new business and employment both taking a battering, a Caixin-sponsored survey show.

• Amazon told staff that an employee working in Seattle had been diagnosed with the disease, Caixin has learned. An internal notice obtained by Caixin said the employee fell ill on Feb. 25, returned home, and did not return to the office. The employee is understood to have worked in a building about 10 minutes walk from the Day 1 tower, where CEO Jeff Bezos’ office is located.

• Much is now known about SARS-CoV-2’s ability to infect the respiratory system, but clinical evidence is slowly emerging about how it can also damage the central nervous system (link in Chinese). Beijing’s Ditan Hospital reported the case of a 56-year-old coronavirus patient whose disease manifested both in conventional respiratory symptoms, and as viral encephalitis, or a swelling of the brain. Doctors found the virus in the man’s spinal fluid. He has since recovered and been discharged.

• Japan’s Olympics minister has raised the prospect of postponing the Summer Games, due to start July 24, until later in the year, the BBC reports. Responding to a question in parliament, Seiko Hashimoto said Tokyo’s contracted with the International Olympic Committee “calls for the Games to be held in 2020.” That “could be interpreted as allowing a postponement,” she added.

• A researcher at Jakarta’s Stem Cell and Cancer Research Institute has cast fresh doubt on Indonesia’s official coronavirus caseload. “It’s statistically impossible that we have only two cases,” Ahmad Utomo told Science. Various scientists have warned Indonesia’s failure to test property for the disease could be behind its relatively low count, given the nation’s close person-to-person ties with China.

Compiled by Flynn Murphy

Wednesday, March 4, 11 a.m.

China’s official coronavirus diagnosis count continued its slowing trajectory on Wednesday, with only 119 new confirmed cases reported on the Chinese mainland for the previous one-day period. An additional 38 people died of the disease, all but one in Hubei.

That contrasted with dramatic growth in cases outside the country, including in South Korea where they surged beyond 5,300. Nevertheless, the World Health Organization (WHO) reiterated that containment is possible — even as the disease also continues its troubling spread in other hotspots like Iran and Italy.

Speaking overnight, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: “To summarize, Covid-19 spreads less efficiently than flu, transmission does not appear to be driven by people who are not sick, it causes more severe illness than flu, there are not yet any vaccines or therapeutics, and it can be contained — which is why we must do everything we can to contain it.”

The WHO said the new disease was killing about 3.4% of people it is known to infect, compared with seasonal flu, which kills about 1%.

In other coronavirus news:

• The Australian government ordered anyone who traveled from Iran after Feb. 19 to self-isolate in their homes, after eight cases of coronavirus were identified among returnees from the country. At a press conference in Canberra, Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt disputed Iran’s assessment of the outbreak, saying “the situation in Iran is clearly far worse than has been documented and significantly higher than the recorded case numbers.”

• Google has canceled a major developer conference set for May due to the coronavirus. The I/O conference, which was to be held in Mountain View, California, is Google’s largest event of the year. The decision came after the tech company moved its Cloud Next conference, which was set for April, to an online format.

• The NBA’s new Basketball Africa League has postponed its inaugural season, which was to begin March 13 in Dakar, Senegal, Bloomberg reported. The 12-club league is a partnership between the International Basketball Federation and the NBA.

• South Korea’s government will seek an additional 11.7 trillion won ($9.86 billion) budget to prop up businesses hit by a coronavirus outbreak that has become the world’s second largest, Bloomberg reported.

• Japanese carriers ANA and Japan Airlines have cancelled a number of domestic flights from Friday as demand for travel within the country falls on coronavirus fears.

• Hong Kong has begun to evacuate residents stranded in Wuhan, chartering four flights that are expected to leave the epicenter of the outbreak on Wednesday and Thursday carrying 522 people, the South China Morning Post reported.

• Italy’s death toll jumped almost a third overnight to 79. That came after a cluster of coronavirus cases diagnosed in the Zhejiang province town of Qingtian cast doubt on the official Italian narrative about how early and widely the virus may have spread in the Lombardy region, some 9,200 kilometers away.

• In Australia, people were mocked online for panic buying of toilet paper amid fears about a shortage of basic necessities. Australia reported its first coronavirus-linked death over the weekend, and its first cases of in-country human transmission on Monday. The hashtag #toiletpapergate was trending on social media Wednesday as users shared pictures of empty supermarket shelves and shopping trolleys overloaded with the daily essential. One Australian supermarket giant has reportedly instituted a limit of four packs per customer.

Compiled by Flynn Murphy

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