Cases spike outside China, 5 dead in Italy: Virus update

Cases spike outside China, 5 dead in Italy: Virus update

Medical staff transfer a patient infected by the COVID-19 coronavirus at a hospital in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province on Saturday. (AFP photo)
Medical staff transfer a patient infected by the COVID-19 coronavirus at a hospital in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province on Saturday. (AFP photo)

China retracted an earlier quarantine easing order in Wuhan as the coronavirus spread further in Asia and the Middle East, raising concerns about the prospect of a global pandemic.

The coronavirus outbreak spread further outside China, sparking concerns about a global pandemic. Italy, now the epicentre of the virus in Europe, reported five deaths and the country’s financial hub is in virtual lockdown.

Infections spiked again in South Korea and Iran, while Afghanistan, Bahrain and Kuwait all reported their first cases. That dented markets globally -- European equities fell the most since June 2016 and the yield on 10-year Treasuries dropped to the lowest since that year. US stocks look set for their biggest drop since August.

The World Health Organization said China’s unprecedented lockdown may have averted hundreds of thousands of cases.

The number of cases in Thailand remained steady at 35, with two patients seriously ill.

Key Developments

- Worldwide death toll 2,624; total cases 79,440

- Italy reports 219 cases, five deaths

- Afghanistan, Bahrain, Kuwait confirm first cases; 12 dead in Iran

- Wuhan retracts statement on quarantine easing measure

- Xi’s response to virus foreshadows an even tighter grip on China

WHO Says China lockdown blunted new epidemic (7.36pm)

China’s unprecedented lockdown and restrictions may have blunted the coronavirus’s spread and averted hundreds of thousands of cases, according to a team of medical experts that visited the outbreak’s epicentre last week. Fewer patients are crowding hospitals in Wuhan and are consulting doctors for fevers, Bruce Aylward, an assistant director-general at the World Health Organization, said in Beijing.

But the outbreak could gain ground again as schools reopen and work resumes, Aylward warned. More broadly, he called for China’s experience in turning around the outbreak to help battle the virus elsewhere.

Hong Kong issues ‘red’ travel alert on South Korea (7.36pm)

Hong Kong urged public planning to travel to South Korea to adjust their travel plans and avoid non-essential travel, according to a statement on Monday. It will stop non-residents from entering from South Korea starting Tuesday, local broadcaster Now TV said.

Traders supercharge global rate-cut bets (7.13pm)

The global economic disruption caused by the coronavirus has prompted traders to load up on bets that central banks will have to ride to the rescue. They’re pricing in a total of 205 basis points of interest-rate cuts from seven major central banks by the end of the year, up three fold from the end of 2019, according to calculations based on Bloomberg’s World Interest Rate Probability.

China to keep monetary policy flexible, mull new moves (7pm)

China’s central bank said it will place more emphasis on keeping monetary policy flexible as it steps up support to the real economy, according to a statement on its website. The People’s Bank of China said also it will consider new measures at the proper time to counter the impact from the coronavirus outbreak.

US drugmakers working on coronavirus surge (6.33pm)

US drug developers Novavax and Inovio, as well as diagnostic test maker Co-Diagnostics, rose in pre-market trading as the coronavirus continues to spread outside of China.

Italy has 219 virus cases, five deaths (6.22pm)

There are 219 confirmed coronavirus cases in Italy, emergency commissioner Angelo Borrelli said. Five patients have died, and one has been declared free from infection.

Italy is grappling with Europe’s largest coronavirus outbreak. Milan, the country’s financial hub, and the productive regions of Lombardy and Veneto are in virtual lockdown. The government has imposed sweeping measures limiting travel to and from affected areas.

Italian passengers stuck on plane, coach blocked (6.18pm)

Italy’s Foreign Ministry said it is monitoring the situation of an Alitalia flight that is being held at Mauritius airport. The Alitalia flight departed from Fiumicino Sunday evening. Some passengers coming from the northern Italian regions of Lombardy and Veneto, where an outbreak is under way, have been prevented from disembarking.

Separately, a coach coming from northern Italy has been blocked at Lyon’s Perrache station in southeast France because of a suspected case of coronavirus, regional newspaper Le Progres reported.

European stocks tumble most since 2016 (5.57pm)

The Stoxx Europe 600 Index fell as much as 3.6%, the most since June 2016, led by the auto, mining and travel sectors. Luxury companies tumbled on fears that the epidemic will hurt sales.

EU won’t restrict Schengen travel yet (4.30pm)

The European Union has no plans yet for blanket restrictions in its free-travel rules in the so-called Schengen area following the surge in cases in Italy. The bloc called the Italian response was swift and effective, despite ever louder criticism at home and abroad.

EU health commissioner Stella Kyriakides has asked the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control to update their risk assessment to take into consideration the situation in Italy. A joint WHO-ECDC expert mission will be sent to Italy on Tuesday to assess the situation.

Europe debt risk jumps most since March 2018 (3.47pm)

The Markit iTraxx Europe Crossover index of credit-default swaps on high-yield companies rose 14.5bps to about 234bps, the most since March 2018.

China bans wildlife trading and consumption (3.47pm)

China’s top legislature imposed a total ban on trade and consumption of wild animals, according to state-run China Central Television, a move that aims to curb activities that scientists say may have caused the deadly coronavirus to jump from animals to humans.

China postpones annual legislative meetings (3.23pm)

China’s top legislature decided to delay the annual meetings, which were originally scheduled to start early March, state-run China Central Television said. New dates will be announced later. The legislative meeting is one of the most important political meetings held every year in Beijing, at which officials will discuss China’s major economic targets including for GDP growth, inflation and announce the country’s budget plan. It’s the first time in decades that the NPC has been postponed.

Italy studies tax relief, financial support (3.23pm)

The government is studying emergency measures to support companies and families affected by the outbreak in the country’s northern regions. Possible steps include suspending local tax payments and delaying mortgage payments, according to a draft decree seen by Bloomberg.

Italy was already on the brink of recession after an 0.3 percentage point contraction in the fourth quarter. Bond yields spiked and equities slumped after the country emerged as Europe’s most-affected nation, with over 200 cases reported.

Afghanistan has first case (2.38pm)

The country has its first coronavirus infection, local TOLO news reported.

Wuhan to keep quarantine measures (2.10pm)

The local government in Wuhan said it would keep quarantine measures, walking back an earlier statement that said people who weren’t currently residents of the city would be allowed to leave from Monday for reasons including medical need. It said the earlier statement was ineffective.

The statement had said those leaving should be healthy, with no symptoms of fever, cough or asthma. It added that Wuhan residents and their vehicles were now allowed to enter the city after procedures including identity and health checks.

Hours after the statement was released, it was deleted off state media and the local government’s Weibo account and replaced with a statement saying top officials had not approved the easing.

China has in recent weeks locked down some 50 million people in more than a dozen cities to try and stop the virus, which originated in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province.

Kuwait, Bahrain confirm first cases (1.21pm)

The virus continued its spread in the Middle East, with Kuwait reporting three cases and Bahrain one, according to their respective state-run news agencies. The infections in Kuwait were linked to people returning from the Muslim pilgrim site of Mashhad, in Iran.

Iran has eight deaths so far, giving it the highest number of coronavirus cases in the region. Other neighbouring countries that have reported cases of the virus are the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon, Egypt and Israel.

Austria eases halt on trains from Italy (1.20pm)

Austria lifted the temporary ban on train traffic from Italy via the Brenner pass overnight. The two suspect cases on board the Venice-Munich train that had triggered the halt were tested negative for the coronavirus, Austrian Interior Minister Karl Nehammer said on public radio Oe1.

Italy earlier confirmed a third death from the virus, as Prime Minister Guiseppe Conte said he was confident the country can limit the contagion. La Scala opera house is among the public buildings that suspended performances as a precaution. Venice also canceled all public events for a week, including the remaining days of its flagship Carnival celebration, and Milan adopted similar measures that will likely affect the rest of its Fashion Week.

Another Chinese province lowers emergency level (10.33am)

State-run CCTV said Guangdong -- which has the most confirmed infections after Hubei -- has become the latest Chinese province to lower its coronavirus emergency response level from its highest.

Gansu, Liaoning, Guizhou, Shanxi and Yunnan also have, the state-run People’s Daily reported earlier, citing local governments. Shanxi’s was lowered to its second-highest, and the other four to the third-highest levels, the newspaper said.

South Korea widens virus screening (10.05am)

With the country at the highest alert level in nearly a decade, South Korea will expand coronavirus screening to all residents of the city of Daegu who show symptoms of the infection, and ship 1,000 hospital beds to the region, a health ministry official said at a briefing.

The additional beds are being expedited as health officials said they had identified 37,000 people in the city with symptoms of the virus. The moves came a day after President Moon Jae-in raised the alert level in South Korea to its highest.

“There is high chance of nationwide spread if South Korea fails to effectively block the transmission of community spread in Daegu as confirmed cases have spiked in the region,” Vice Health Minister Kim Ganglip told the briefing.

South Korea on Monday reported 161 additional virus cases, raising the total to 763 infections, along with two more deaths.

By elevating the alert level, the government can restrict air travel, allocate additional resources to public and private hospitals and impose stricter measures on foreigners entering the country. South Korea on Sunday postponed the resumption of schools, which were scheduled to reopen next Monday after a winter break and restricted military personnel from leaving their base or facility.

When the last alert level was raised to “red” in 2009, the number of H1N1 cases in South Korea doubled to almost 9,000 in a week’s time, with about 40 deaths attributed to the influenza during the same period.

China releases new case figures, late (10am)

The country’s death toll rose by 150 to 2,592 on Sunday, the National Health Commission said in a statement on its website. The total number of cases rose to 77,150, it said, months after the pathogen first emerged in Hubei province, where the bulk of the virus’ impact has been felt.

Hubei reported an additional 398 cases and 149 more deaths, according to the NHC. That brings the confirmed number of cases in the province to 64,287, and its death toll to 2,495. More than 24,700 patients have been discharged from hospitals since the outbreak began, the commissions said.

China was delayed in releasing its daily virus data, with numbers out of Hubei typically arriving between 6 and 7.30am local time. The newly appointed provincial party secretary there, former Shanghai mayor Ying Yong, on Friday ordered Hubei to not remove confirmed cases from its virus tallies.

The province’s methodology shifts over the past few weeks have raised questions over the reliability of the data, with a change on Feb 13 adding almost 15,000 new cases to the list. The numbers were also revised on Friday to include cases in prisons that were omitted earlier.

Earlier last week, China advised Hubei to report cases only as “confirmed” or “suspected”. The province has been grappling with overcrowded hospitals and stretched medical resources.

Hong Kong travel agency halts tours to Seoul (9.52am)

HNA’s Hong Kong-based Hong Thai Travel Services halted group tours to Seoul departing before March 15 in order to ensure the health and safety of customers and staff amid the outbreak, the travel agency said in a post on its Facebook page. It will impact 570 travellers from around 30 tour groups, who will be eligible for exchanges and refunds.

Five Chinese provinces lower emergency levels (8.30am)

Gansu, Liaoning, Guizhou, Shanxi and Yunnan provinces lowered their coronavirus emergency response levels, which had previously been at the highest level, according to the state-run People’s Daily, which cited local governments.

Shanxi’s was lowered to its second-highest, and the other four to the third-highest levels, the newspaper said.

Korea’s ruling party urges extra budget (6.37am)

The Democratic Party of Korea assessed that the nation will need more than 10 trillion won ($8.3 billion) in extra budget to support the economy and provide aid for losses related to the outbreak, according to the Seoul Shinmun newspaper, citing an unidentified party official.

Cathay slashes more capacity (6.12am)

Hong Kong carrier Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd will reduce around 40% of capacity across its network, an increase from the roughly 30% it announced earlier this month. The Asian cities of Jeju, Busan, Okinawa, Niigata, Kaohsiung and Taichung are among the destinations subject to temporary suspension until March 28, the airline said Saturday.

Aussie drops as caution reigns in markets (5.23am)

Australian bonds climbed, while equity futures indicated a soft start across the Asia-Pacific. The Australian and New Zealand dollars weakened.

The virus outbreak’s “impact on Chinese business is already deep,” said Charles Gillams, managing director at RJMG Asset Management Ltd. “So, whether that has a one economic quarter impact -- of some severity -- or is a bigger issue remains unclear.”

Austria stops trains coming from Italy (4.15am)

Austria’s state railroad halted three trains traveling from Italy via the Brenner Pass in response to a rash of virus cases in its southern neighbour, officials said.

Hong Kong companies have no safety net (3.05am)

That “Tsunami-like” event from the virus in Hong Kong is devastating businesses already hobbled by months of anti-government protests.

Unlike in the US and rival Singapore, businesses in Hong Kong don’t have recourse to any corporate rescue procedure. The lack of a proper legal framework for bankruptcy protection means companies are forced into liquidation, according to Johnson Kong, the president of the Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants.

Air New Zealand warns coronavirus will hit earnings (3.20am)

Air New Zealand is joining the pack of airlines warning that earnings will be affected. The carrier said Monday it expects a NZ$35 million ($22 million) to NZ$75 million hit as travel demand to Asia drops.

Airlines across the globe have been hit by the outbreak, from flight bans to loss of bookings to higher operating costs.

US trade rep says US offshored too much of supply chain (2am)

White House trade adviser Peter Navarro says the crisis shows, “not surprisingly”, that the US has offshored too much of its supply chain.

Navarro expressed confidence on Fox’s Sunday Morning Futures, saying the “American economy is exceedingly strong and not particularly vulnerable to what happens in China.”

He emphasised his goal to bring more of the US supply chain home. “A lot of it is in China, some of it is in India, some in Europe, but we’ve got to get that back on shore,” he said.

New cases in Italy reach 140 (2.20am)

Italian authorities reported cases in three regions: 110 in Lombardy; 21 in Veneto and nine in Emilia Romagna. Of those, 25 are in intensive care. Italy reported its third death on Sunday, a woman in her 80s.

That burden could become more acute: More than 40,000 people are hospitalised with Covid-19 in Hubei. Among those, 8,853 cases are serious and 1,845 are critically ill.

Passengers test positive in UK (Sunday 11.32pm)

Four more patients have tested positive for the coronavirus in the UK, Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said in a statement. They arrived in the country yesterday on an evacuation flight with 32 passengers from the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship from Japan and are being taken from the quarantine location to specialist NHS infection centres. The total number of cases in the UK is now 13.

EU says more containment may be needed (11.25pm)

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said more cases in Italy and the EU are expected in coming days. “These extraordinary measures in northern Italy are essential to limit the outbreak and may need to be replicated in other communities in the coming days,” it said in a statement. The ECDC is monitoring the situation and will issue an updated risk assessment with the next 24 hours.

Virus could put recovery at risk: IMF (7.55pm)

The virus outbreak has disrupted economic activity in China and could put global economic recovery at risk, Kristalina Georgieva, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, said in a statement after the G-20 meeting. “Even in the case of rapid containment of the virus, growth in China and the rest of the world would be impacted,” Georgieva said. “We all hope for a V-shaped, rapid recovery—but given the uncertainty, it would be prudent to prepare for more adverse scenarios.”

Third Diamond Princess passenger dies (7.07pm)

A third passenger from the Diamond Princess cruise ship docked in Yokohama died, Japan’s health ministry said in a statement, citing pneumonia as the cause of death. The victim was a Japanese man was in his 80s.

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