Korea adds 505 cases, deaths top 2,800: Virus update
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Korea adds 505 cases, deaths top 2,800: Virus update

Workers produce protective suits at a factory in Yangzhou in China's eastern Jiangsu province on Wednesday. (AFP photo)
Workers produce protective suits at a factory in Yangzhou in China's eastern Jiangsu province on Wednesday. (AFP photo)

Saudi Arabia halted religious visits that draw millions to cities including Mecca and Medina, while Japan asked for all schools to shut from March 2. More new cases were reported outside China than within the country for the first time, highlighting the spread of the epidemic.

Britain added two cases, Switzerland three and South Korea reported 505 new infections. The US identified the first coronavirus case that doesn’t have ties to a known outbreak, as President Donald Trump assured Americans they face little risk.

China plans to suspend retail government bond sales and Malaysia unveiled a stimulus package valued at about $4.8 billion. Equities fell and bond yields reached record lows.

Key Developments

Global deaths at 2,801, with 82,084 cases

China death toll at 2,744, up 29; cases climb to 78,497, up 433

South Korea cases rise, US urges travellers to reconsider trips

US confirms first case of unknown origin

Trump puts Pence in charge of coronavirus response

Asia stocks, US equity futures fall

Saudi Arabia halts religious visits

China to extend school closure, premier Li Says: CCTV 

Premier Li Keqiang said China will extend its closure of schools because of the epidemic, state broadcaster China Central Television reported.

Greece confirms two more coronavirus cases; closes a school 

Greece said that the child of the 38-year-old woman hospitalised on Wednesday, who tested positive for coronavirus, also has been infected. Authorities closed the child’s school for 14 days as a precaution. A third person in an unrelated case, who had recently returned from Italy, also tested positive.

Emirates to limit access to its biggest mideast market 

Emirates, which gets 60% of its Middle East revenue from Saudi Arabia, will stop flying tourists from more than 20 countries to the kingdom to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

SGX gives issuers an extra two months to hold AGMs 

Singapore Exchange said it will allow issuers to hold their annual general meetings up to June 30 to approve financial results. The waiver was granted because shareholders may be concerned about attending large-group meetings.

Japan’s Abe tells all schools to shut 

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called for all elementary, middle and high schools in the country to close from Monday though to the end of the spring holidays as part of measures to combat the spread of coronavirus.

Malaysia unveils stimulus package 

Malaysia announced a package of measures valued at 20 billion ringgit ($4.8 billion) to boost an economy battered by the coronavirus outbreak. The government will support businesses affected by the virus, particularly in the tourism industry.

China plans to suspend retail govt bond sales 

China plans to suspend selling government bonds to retail customers via bank branches next month, according to people with knowledge of the matter, who asked not to be identified for discussing a private matter. The halt is partly due to concerns over public gatherings during the outbreak.

AB InBev, Aston Martin warn 

Anheuser-Busch InBev NV, the world’s largest brewer, slumped after forecasting the steepest decline in quarterly profit in at least a decade due to the coronavirus. Aston Martin said revenue will continue to slide as it marks time until an anticipated boost from its new DBX SUV and braces for the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on Chinese demand.

Earlier, Microsoft became joined Apple and HP in cutting outlook, while Standard Chartered said it may take longer to hit a key target.

South Korea reports 505 more cases, 1 death 

South Korea’s health ministry announced an additional 171 cases of the novel coronavirus have been confirmed as of 4pm local time on top of the 334 additional cases reported earlier in the day. The country’s daily tally of 505 today exceeded that of China’s 433 from yesterday.

Israel asks citizens to reconsider travel 

The Israeli government has asked citizens to reconsider plans to travel abroad, as the coronavirus spreads to more countries.

“The Health Ministry is calling on the public to consider the necessity of travel abroad in general,” the ministry said in a text message. It also advised against holding or attending international gatherings.

The ministry added Italy to the list of destinations from which Israelis are required to enter into quarantine upon return. It’s the first non-Asian country on the list.

Middle East cases rise 

Kuwait reported a jump in coronavirus cases to 43, from 26 previously, with all the cases linked to Iran, the hub of the outbreak in the Middle East. Iran has reported 158 cases, including 19 deaths. The United Arab Emirates, which has 13 cases and hasn’t given an update since Saturday, said it’s setting up a medical facility to quarantine patients.

WHO says Italy errors may have inflated cases

Testing of people without any virus symptoms was wrong and didn’t follow World Health Organization guidelines, said Walter Ricciardi, a member of WHO’s board, according to a report by Corriere della Sera.

The result was “general confusion and alarm” as the tests may have inflated positive results, Ricciardi said in an interview with the newspaper. The testing strategy in the Veneto region ignored scientific evidence, he said.

Australia launches emergency plan for likely pandemic

The Australian government activated an emergency plan to deal with the coronavirus outbreak, saying it had to prepare for a likely pandemic.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison also extended a travel ban on people entering the country from mainland China for a further week.

“We believe the risk of global pandemic is very much upon us and as a result, as a government, we need to take the steps necessary to prepare for such a pandemic,” he told the media, without providing further details of emergency measures.

Budweiser APAC sees sales drop from coronavirus 

The Asia-Pacific beer unit of Anheuser-Busch InBev NV said it would see revenue drop by approximately $285 million in the first two months of this year as the coronavirus outbreak devastates China, its biggest market.

Budweiser APAC said it saw “almost no activity” in nightlife and restaurants in the first two months, but that e-commerce “accelerated its growth significantly.” The company said it’s resuming production and now has permission to re-open all of its breweries except the one in Wuhan, the Chinese city where the pathogen emerged.

“We do see some encouraging signs, in some provinces we do see our customers are opening their businesses again, consumers are starting to get out of their homes again,” Jan Craps, the brewer’s chief executive officer, said in an interview.

China expert sees epidemic contained by end of April

Zhong Nanshan, a respiratory disease expert advising the Chinese government, is confident the coronavirus outbreak will be largely contained by the end of April, Nanfang Daily reported, citing a briefing on Thursday.

Zhong, who led the research into a treatment for SARS, earlier expected the virus outbreak to peak by mid- to late February.

BOK puts micro response to virus before rate move 

Bank of Korea Governor Lee Ju-yeol provided loan support for coronavirus-hit companies rather than a wider-reaching interest rate move on Thursday, saying it was still too early to gauge the overall economic impact of the outbreak.

The central bank left interest rates unchanged, holding off from a repetition of the rate cut response it took during a virus outbreak in 2015. The decision contrasts with the more aggressive response taken by Asian central banks from Indonesia to Thailand.

Lee said the board judged micro policy measures targeted at vulnerable sectors to be more effective than adjusting policy rates at this stage. The BOK announced an increase in the cap for cheap loans available to companies affected.

The bank also downgraded its growth forecast for the year, and Lee said it was also possible the economy would contract in the first quarter as it took a hit from the outbreak.

AmCham China members see impact from outbreak 

The coronavirus epidemic is causing a significant challenge to US businesses in China due to travel disruptions and reduced staff productivity, according to the results of a survey by the American Chamber of Commerce.

Nearly one-third of 169 respondents say they are facing increased costs and significantly reduced revenue, according to the survey released Thursday. Almost half of respondents expect 2020 revenue to decrease if business cannot return to usual before April 30, while close to one-fifth say this year’s revenue will decline more than 50% if the epidemic extends through the end of August, the survey showed.

Respondents in the survey, which was conducted between Feb. 17 and 20, represent large, medium and small sized enterprises, including many with global operations and some with operations in Hubei province and adjacent provinces in China.

China leaders donate own money to virus fight 

Chinese President Xi Jinping and six of his top officials have donated money from their own pockets to fight the coronavirus, as the government scrambles to mobilize public support that has wavered over its response to the outbreak.

The personal donations were reported by the official Xinhua news agency, which said the officials sat on the powerful Politburo Standing Committee, the ruling Communist Party’s top echelon. Xinhua didn’t say how much they donated.

Trump says CDC budget cuts won’t hurt virus response 

President Donald Trump said his proposed cuts to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- the agency leading the government’s response to the coronavirus -- wouldn’t affect preparations for an outbreak.

“We can get money and we can increase staff. We know all the good people. Some of the people we’ve cut they haven’t been used in many many years,” Trump said during a news conference at the White House. “I don’t like having thousands of people around when you don’t need them. When you need them you can get them back very quickly. We can build up very very quickly. We already have done that.”

China reports 433 new coronavirus cases 

China reported 433 additional coronavirus cases, bringing the total case count to 78,497, according to a statement from the National Health Commission.

China’s death toll increase by 29 to 2,744, as Hubei province, where the outbreak originated, reported 26 additional fatalities. Hubei had 409 new confirmed cases. Discharged patients in mainland China rose by 2,750 to 32,495.

The number of cases in China is declining as those elsewhere are climbing. The World Health Organization said Wednesday that more coronavirus cases were reported in countries other than China for the first time since the initial patient was identified on Dec 8.

US raises travel alert on South Korea 

The US government is asking Americans to “reconsider” travel to South Korea as the coronavirus spreads in that country.

The State Department issued a Level 3 advisory -- 4 being the most severe. “The South Korean government has reported cases of the Covid-19 in the country and has upgraded its response level to ‘grave’, its highest response level,” the department said in the advisory, using the medical abbreviation for the virus.

The warning came as South Korea’s Health Ministry said 334 more cases of coronavirus have been confirmed overnight, bringing the total number of cases to 1,595. The ministry said 307 of the new cases are from Daegu, where the bulk of infections have originated. Daegu confirmed a 13th death in South Korea, and said the city doesn’t have enough hospital beds to treat patients.

Korean authorities thought they had largely contained the illness until they learned that a woman who had been infected attended two services of a secretive religious sect with at least 1,000 other people. Within 24 hours, the nation’s number of confirmed cases started multiplying exponentially.

South Korea said it’s testing between 7,000-10,000 people a day for the coronavirus.

US identifies first case of unknown origin 

US health authorities said they’ve identified a first case of coronavirus that doesn’t have ties to a known outbreak, a worrying signal that the virus is already circulating despite reassurances from the Trump administration that it’s been contained.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the patient doesn’t appear to have travelled to China or been exposed to another known case of the coronavirus. Health authorities have been increasingly concerned about what’s known as community spread, where the virus begins circulating freely among people outside of quarantines or known contacts with other patients.

The CDC said the case was picked up by doctors in California, and that the patient may have been infected by a traveller who brought the disease in. It didn’t give more information on the patient’s status. The new case brings the total of known infections in the US to 15, not counting repatriated Americans.

IMF to decide on Spring meetings in coming days 

Senior leaders at the International Monetary Fund and World Bank are monitoring the spread of the coronavirus and will decide on the “scale and scope” of the spring meetings in the days ahead, according to an emailed statement.

The annual IMF and World Bank spring meetings that bring together central bank governors, finance ministers and policy makers from around the world are due to take place April 13-19 in Washington, D.C.

Saudi Arabia bans religious visits 

Saudi Arabia temporarily halted religious visits that include stops in Mecca and Medina, which draw millions of people a year as the Islamic world’s holiest cities, to help prevent the spread of coronavirus into the country.

Tourism visa-holders from countries with reported coronavirus infections will also be denied entry, the Saudi embassy in Washington said in an emailed statement, without naming any countries. The steps are temporary and subject to continuous evaluation, according to the statement.

The government is acting to block the deadly virus as neighbouring countries including Kuwait, Bahrain, Iraq and the United Arab Emirates have flagged dozens of cases. No infections had been reported by Saudi Arabian authorities as of Wednesday.

Yellen says virus could throw US economy into recession

Former Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said depending on how widely the coronavirus spreads, the economic impact could have a significant impact on Europe and veer the US toward a recession.

“We could see a significant impact on Europe, which has been weak to start with, and it’s just conceivable that it could throw the United States into a recession,” Yellen said at an event in Michigan. “If it doesn’t hit in a substantial way in the United States, that’s less likely. We had a pretty solid outlook before this happened -- and there is some risk, but basically I think the US outlook looks pretty good.”

The global economy was weak but starting to recover before the virus hit, Yellen said.

Iraq envoy sounds alarm on Iran cases 

The Iraqi government is “really concerned” about the spread of the coronavirus from neighbouring Iran, Fareed Yasseen, the Iraqi ambassador to the US, said during an event in Washington.

The movement of people between the two countries is “quite intense” and communal because of religious activities, which could help transmit the virus “more readily,” he said. “This is one of the reasons why they’ve put a stop to travel between Iraq and Iran.”

The Iraqi government has shut all schools and universities for 10 days, closed public venues, tea houses, cinemas and banned citizens from traveling to nine countries, including Iran, Sumaria News reported. Iraq has reported five cases so far, the country’s health ministry reported on Tuesday.

Rejected by two ports, cruise heads to Mexico 

A ship operated by MSC Cruises is sailing for Cozumel, Mexico, Wednesday after authorities in two Caribbean ports effectively refused to let passengers disembark over coronavirus fears.

The company said it has received “formal and final authorisation” to call in Cozumel, despite an earlier report to the contrary, and expects to arrive Wednesday evening local time.

MSC Cruises says it doesn’t have any evidence of coronavirus on the ship. The company said its medical records show one case of seasonal flu in a crew member.

Coronavirus has already prompted the industry to dial back exposure in Asia. But the latest incident appeared to signal the potential for a broader disruption in bigger markets, exacerbating the hit to cruise stocks.

US airlines cut flights to South Korea 

US airlines, having already suspended flights to China, are starting to pull back from South Korea.

Delta Air Lines Inc said Wednesday it would temporarily reduce service starting Feb 29, citing health concerns over the coronavirus outbreak. The Atlanta-based carrier also will postpone the start of new service between South Korea’s Incheon airport and Manila.

Hawaiian Airlines is temporarily halting flights connecting Honolulu with Incheon because of the increase in cases in South Korea and the impact the illness has had on demand for leisure travel.

WHO: Most new cases now outside China 

More coronavirus cases were reported in countries other than China in the past 24 hours for the first time since the initial patient was identified on Dec. 8, the World Health Organization said.

The agency said in its daily situation report that there were 459 confirmed cases outside of China in the past 24 hours, compared with 412 new ones in China, where the outbreak began.

Spahn: Germany at beginning of epidemic 

New cases of the virus in the German states of North Rhine-Westphalia and Baden-Wurttemberg are a sign that Germany is “at the beginning of a coronavirus epidemic,” Health Minister Jens Spahn said in Berlin on Wednesday.

“It is questionable whether out current strategy of isolating the infection and capping infection chains will work further,” Spahn said. “The probability that this virus will circumvent Germany won’t be fulfilled”

Pakistan confirms first coronavirus cases 

Pakistan’s health minister said the country had identified two cases of coronavirus, the first in the country.

Both cases are being treated and are stable, Pakistan health minister Zafar Mirza said on Twitter. “No need to panic, things are under control,” Mirza said.

Europe health official predicts wider outbreak 

“It is likely that Europe will see similar developments like in Italy, varying from country to country,” the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said in an update Wednesday. “The risk of the occurrence of similar clusters, similar to the ones in Italy, associated with Covid-19 in other countries in the EU/EEA and the UK is currently considered to be moderate to high,” ECDC said in its risk-assessment report.

Even though “we are still in the containment phase,” European Union member states should review their “pandemic plans,” the bloc’s health chief, Stella Kyriakides, said in Rome earlier today.

“All Member States need to inform us about their preparedness plans and how they propose to implement them,” Kyriakides said in a press conference, according to a copy of her prepared remarks. “This is the kind of crucial information that we all need to have if the virus spreads further and I urge Member States to share this with us and each other, as this is important for our mutual security.”

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