Pariah ship heads to Cambodia, deaths hit 1,115: Virus update

Pariah ship heads to Cambodia, deaths hit 1,115: Virus update

Chinese paramilitary police officers wearing protective gear transfer pails of disinfectant in Yunmeng county, outside Xiaogan City in China's central Hubei province on Wednesday. (AFP photo)
Chinese paramilitary police officers wearing protective gear transfer pails of disinfectant in Yunmeng county, outside Xiaogan City in China's central Hubei province on Wednesday. (AFP photo)

The impact of the coronavirus continues to spread, as Japan found new infections on a cruise ship while a major bank in Singapore evacuated 300 employees from an office floor after a worker tested positive.

President Xi Jinping said China would meet its economic goals while battling the coronavirus that has now claimed 1,115 lives. A cruise ship, which was was turned away by multiple countries, is now headed to dock in Cambodia.

As more cases emerged overseas, data from China signalled the outbreak may be easing. The number of new cases in Hubei province was the lowest this month, and suspected infections on the mainland fell by more than 5,000 to about 16,000.

The Chinese Grand Prix in Beijing and the Hong Kong Sevens Rugby tournament are both set to be postponed, while a top mobile conference in Barcelona is close to being cancelled.

Key Developments

- China death toll at 1,113, up by 97
- Confirmed China cases at 44,653, up 2,015
- China rapid rebound thesis tested as disruption deepens
- China’s cities lock up residents to prevent spread of virus
- Early coronavirus genetic data may have forewarned outbreak

Cruise ship heads to Cambodia (6.50pm)

The Westerdam luxury cruise liner is now sailing to Sihanoukville, Cambodia. It is due to arrive Feb 13 and will remain in port for several days. Guests will be able to go ashore.

Earlier, Thailand said it would consider helping any sick person aboard but stood by its decision to bar entry, as the ordeal continued for the 2,257 passengers and crew looking to disembark.

The Westerdam, which is facing the risk of running low on food, has also been refused entry by Taiwan, Japan, the Philippines and Guam. Carnival Corp’s Holland America Line, the operator of the ship, has said there’s no reason to believe there are any coronavirus cases on board.

Top mobile conference close to cancellation (6.43pm)

After some of the biggest telecom companies withdrew from the wireless industry’s top annual event because of concerns about the spread of the coronavirus, MWC Barcelona 2020 is all but dead.

The organiser, the GSMA, could announce the event’s cancellation as early as Wednesday, according to people familiar with the matter. The lobby group, based in London, is expected to finalise a decision in the afternoon. MWC is due to run from Feb 24 to Feb 27, drawing around 100,000 people to the Spanish city.

Hong Kong Sevens to Be postponed, TVB Says (6.21pm)

The Hong Kong Sevens, an annual international rugby tournament that has been running since 1976, is set to be postponed, local broadcaster TVB reported. A formal announcement will be made this week.

JLR to extend shutdown of China manufacturing: ET (6.20pm)

Tata Motors Ltd‘s Jaguar Land Rover unit has told its vendor network that the shutdown of its manufacturing operations in China would be extended till Feb 17, the Economic Times reported.

UOB allocates S$3 billion in liquidity relief (6.58pm)

United Overseas Bank has allocated S$3 billion ($2.2 billion) of “relief assistance” to Singapore companies aimed at addressing near-term liquidity as the coronavirus impacts economic activity.

The bank is offering financing liquidity against mortgages, and will extend working capital financing of as much as S$5 million for as long as one year.

ECB’s Lane sees ‘pretty serious’ short-term hit (6.42pm)

European Central Bank Chief Economist Philip Lane warned that the outbreak could have a “pretty serious short-term hit” to the economy as spending plans are postponed or canceled. He also foresees a bounceback though, with the full-year impact “relatively minor”.

It’s a tricky time for the euro zone. Figures on Wednesday showed industrial output slumped the most in almost four years in December, and a January recovery now looks in doubt.

Hong Kong landlords start to slash retail rents (5.53pm)

Sun Hung Kai Properties Ltd, the city’s largest developer by market value, will reduce rents for February by 30% to as much as 50% for some of its mall tenants to help them ride out the impact from the virus. Wharf Real Estate Investment Co announced a similar move for its Harbour City shopping centre, Apple Daily reported.

Hong Kong’s usually booming property market has virtually ground to a halt. Just 13 homes were sold in the first three weekends after Chinese New Year at the city’s 10 largest housing estates, according to Centaline Property Agency Ltd data.

Chinese Grand Prix said to be postponed (4.15pm)

Liberty Media Corp’s Formula One is postponing the Chinese Grand Prix in light of the coronavirus outbreak, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Officials have yet to confirm whether the Grand Prix will be postponed or cancelled entirely.

China’s battery storage capacity could drop (4.13pm)

China’s battery storage production capacity may fall by as much as 10% to 237 gigawatt-hour this year compared with a pre-coronavirus forecast, Wood Mackenzie said in a note. Tight battery cell supply could slow down the cost decline of EV manufacturing and energy storage systems.

China should target bigger fiscal deficit: ex-official (3.48pm)

The country’s fiscal deficit should exceed the usual 3% of GDP this year to help curb impact of the coronavirus outbreak on the economy, according to an article by Huang Qifan, a former legislator and official.

BMW to reopen Chinese factories next week (3.33pm)

BMW plans to reopen its Chinese factories on Feb 17. The carmaker said it was too early to know the full effect of the virus.

Taiwan cuts 2020 GDP forecast (3.28pm)

Taiwan lowered its estimate for full-year growth and officials said the coronavirus outbreak was set to diminish global trade this year. Gross domestic product will likely expand 2.37% this year, the statistics bureau said, compared to a previous government forecast of 2.72%.

Separately, Sweden’s Riksbank said the coronavirus would likely reduce global growth in the short term, but it was difficult to fully assess the economic consequences.

Cruise ship may get Thai medical aid (3.11pm)

Thailand said it would consider helping any sick person aboard the outcast Westerdam luxury cruise liner but stood by its decision to bar entry, as the ordeal continued for the 2,257 passengers and crew looking to disembark.

The Westerdam, which is facing the risk of running low on food, has also been refused entry by Taiwan, Japan, the Philippines and Guam. Carnival Corp’s Holland America Line, the operator of the ship, has said there’s no reason to believe there are any coronavirus cases on board.

DBS evacuates 300 employees in Singapore (1.25pm)

DBS Group Holdings Ltd. evacuated 300 employees from an office floor in the heart of Singapore’s financial district after one of its workers tested positive for the coronavirus.

Southeast Asia’s biggest bank has told the staff members on Level 43 at Marina Bay Financial Centre Tower 3 to work from home for the time being, the company said in a statement. The number of evacuees was given in a memo seen by Bloomberg earlier and confirmed by the bank.

The coronavirus had already been detected in Singapore’s financial district earlier this week, prompting some companies to send workers home and temperature screening checkpoints to be set up at the entrances of several towers. A worker at an unnamed firm in Marina Bay Financial Centre Tower 1 was confirmed as being infected with the virus over the weekend.

Singapore last week raised its disease response level to the same grade used during the SARS epidemic, as it braced for what Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said was a “major test for our nation.” Singapore has at least 47 confirmed cases of coronavirus.

Early virus data existed weeks before public release (10.32am)

Preliminary genetic sequence data indicating the presence of a SARS-like virus in central China were known about two weeks before key information was publicly released, scientists said.

In a commentary piece published Tuesday in the Lancet medical journal, scientists, including members of the World Health Organization’s emergency committee, said insufficient attention was paid to information doctors had gathered about the genetic sequence of the novel coronavirus.

Chinese company says it can make Gilead’s virus drug (10.18am)

A Chinese drugmaker said it has started mass-producing an experimental drug from Gilead Sciences Inc that has the potential to fight the novel coronavirus, as China accelerates its effort to find a treatment for the widening outbreak.

Suzhou-based BrightGene Bio-Medical Technology Co said it has developed the technology to synthesize the active pharmaceutical ingredients of remdesivir, Gilead’s drug that is a leading candidate to treat the highly-infectious virus that’s killed more than 1,000 people. The drug isn’t licensed or approved anywhere in the world yet.

While BrightGene said that it intends to license the drug from Gilead, its move to start manufacturing at this early stage is highly unusual and a potential infringement of the American company’s intellectual property. It comes a week after Chinese researchers filed an application to patent the drug to treat the new coronavirus.

Singapore not ruling out more stringent measures (9.50am)

Singapore is not ruling out more stringent measures to tackle the coronavirus outbreak if the situation worsens, according to Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong.

Singapore is preparing a strong package in the upcoming budget to help companies and individuals manage the economic impacts of the virus, Wong said in a Bloomberg TV interview. Singapore can implement additional measures to contain the spread of the virus without raising the national response level to red, he said.

China death toll rises to 1,113 (9.08am)

China said the death toll from the coronavirus outbreak rose to 1,113 as of Feb 11, with 97 additional fatalities reported. Some 1,068 of those deaths have occurred in Hubei, the province at the centre of the coronavirus outbreak.

Confirmed cases of the disease in mainland China rose to 44,653, according to a statement from the National Health Commission.

Hubei reported 1,638 additional cases, the lowest daily level this month. That’s an encouraging sign for health experts looking for when the outbreak peaks. Also, the number of suspected cases as of Feb 11 was 16,067, down from 21,675 the previous day.

Two deaths have been reported outside mainland China, one in Hong Kong and the other in the Philippines.

China supports merger of airlines amid outbreak (9.01am)

China’s Civil Aviation Administration said it will support the restructuring of airlines to ease the impact from the coronavirus outbreak.

The administration will also work with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in urging some countries to continue international flights with China.

The coronavirus outbreak has disrupted flights to and from China, one of the world’s busiest travel markets, as airlines around the globe halt service.

Xi vows China will meet economic goals, defeat virus (8.10am)

President Xi Jinping vowed that China would meet its economic and social development goals while winning the battle against the deadly coronavirus.

“We have the ability and confidence not only to defeat the epidemic, but also to accomplish the set goals and tasks for economic and social development,” he told Indonesian leader Joko Widodo in a phone call Tuesday, according to the official Xinhua news agency. “I believe China will be more prosperous after overcoming this epidemic.”

Xi said authorities were at an important juncture in fighting the virus, which has killed more than 1,000 people and fuelled fears of a broader slowdown for the world’s second-biggest economy. He had urged officials to work together to contain the virus at a rare meeting of top leaders earlier this month, saying the outcome would directly impact China’s social stability.

China agricultural purchases may be less than hoped: official (7.42am)

China’s agricultural purchases from the US under the first phase of a trade deal may not be as large as the Trump administration had hoped due to the coronavirus, said White House National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien.

“It could have an impact on how big, at least in this current year, the purchases are,” O’Brien said at an Atlantic Council event Tuesday in Washington.

He also said American doctors are still not being let into China to deal with the outbreak.

“We’ve offered the Chinese the opportunity to have American doctors from CDC, NIH and others,” he said. “That offer’s not been accepted at this point, but it’s an outstanding offer.”

Japan reports 39 more cases aboard cruise ship (6.54am)

Japan’s Health Ministry confirmed an additional 39 cases of the novel coronavirus on a cruise ship in Yokohama, bringing the total number of infections from the quarantined vessel to 174.

Defence Minister Taro Kono tweeted that a quarantine officer from the health ministry also tested positive for the virus.

Carnival Corp’s Diamond Princess cruise ship has become the biggest centre of infection of any place outside of China. The Health Ministry said 492 on board have been tested, and four that tested positive are in serious condition.

The Diamond Princess was placed under quarantine last week and checks were conducted after a passenger from Hong Kong who had been on the ship tested positive for the virus. The ship has become a case of concern because of the possibility of more infections in the vessel’s confined spaces, and the increased risks to elderly passengers.

Cruise ship risks running low on supplies (5.47am)

Countries could continue to refuse to berth the Westerdam cruise ship carrying 2,257 people, citing fears of the deadly coronavirus, until conditions on the luxury liner become so dire that it invokes an emergency.

The cruise ship operated by Carnival Corp’s Holland America Line could be forced to wait until it’s in distress -- running out of water, food or fuel -- before international law-of-the-sea conventions kick in and legally obligate the closest country to admit the vessel or provide help, according to maritime experts.

“The countries are all passing the buck until it lands in the lap of someone who has to take the ship because the ship’s run out of fuel or food,” said Jean-Paul Rodrigue, a professor of transit geography at Hofstra University in New York. “When the ship is in distress, the nearest port of call will be bound in this case to help. That’s the law.”

Thailand on Tuesday became the fifth country or territory to deny the Westerdam access to its ports, according to the World Health Organization. The ship’s operator has said it has no reason to believe there are any cases of coronavirus on board.

US raises travel advisory for Hong Kong (2.20pm)

The US State Department raised its travel advisory for Hong Kong to level 2, which means travellers should exercise increased caution.

“The Hong Kong government has reported cases of the novel coronavirus in its special administrative region, has upgraded its response level to emergency, its highest response level, and is taking other steps to manage the novel coronavirus outbreak,” the department said.

Last month, the US raised the advisory for mainland China to level 4, the highest designation, which means do not travel.

Powell says Fed monitoring virus (12am)

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said the US central bank is keeping a close eye on fallout from the deadly coronavirus outbreak in China, singling it out among risks threatening the US and world economy.

“In particular, we are closely monitoring the emergence of the coronavirus, which could lead to disruptions in China that spill over to the rest of the global economy,” Powell said in remarks before US lawmakers.

Powell stopped short of saying the outbreak had changed the Fed’s baseline outlook for the US economy.

Disease Is officially named Covid-19, WHO says (9.10am)

The disease cause by the new coronavirus that emerged in Wuhan, China, has been officially named Covid-19, the World Health Organization said at a press conference Tuesday in Geneva.

The pathogen itself has gone by the designation 2019-nCoV. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that naming the disease it causes was important, and that the group had been conscious about not picking a name that could be inaccurate or stigmatising.

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