Cases top 90,000, new drugs to come ‘in months’: Virus update

Cases top 90,000, new drugs to come ‘in months’: Virus update

South Korean President Moon Jae-in (3rd ight) and his ministers wearing face masks attend a cabinet meeting at the government complex in Seoul on Tuesday. (AFP photo)
South Korean President Moon Jae-in (3rd ight) and his ministers wearing face masks attend a cabinet meeting at the government complex in Seoul on Tuesday. (AFP photo)

Governments from Japan to the UK prepared emergency measures or economic packages to fight the spread of the coronavirus. Drugmakers said they hope to have antiviral treatments ready within months and vaccines by next year.

Australia’s central bank cut interest rates and Indonesia said it’s working on a second financial stimulus as the health threat grows. South Korean President Moon Jae-in said his nation is at war with the virus. Airport checks increased on US-bound travellers as four patients died in Washington state and infections emerged in Georgia and Massachusetts.

The OECD warned that global economic growth will sink to the lowest in more than a decade, and the European Union set up a special team to deal with the outbreak as cases rose from Italy to Spain. Earlier, central banks pledged to respond to the market rout.

Key Developments

- Global cases reach 90,441; death toll rises to 3,123
- Saudi Arabia, New York City, Brussels, Berlin report first cases
- Coronavirus drives China factories to record slump
- Governments worldwide face calls for major stimulus
- In Seattle, officials requisition a motel to quarantine patients

SAS suspends flights to Hong Kong, withdraws guidance 

Scandinavian airline SAS AB said it will suspend flights to Hong Kong from March 5 and will look to cut some short-haul flights as the coronavirus damps demand. The carrier, which had already suspended flights to mainland China, said it has withdrawn its fiscal year 2020 guidance provided on Dec. 5 because of the effects of the virus.

Le Maire has “very positive” call with Lagarde on virus 

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said on Twitter he had a “very positive” phone call with European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde about economic and financial reaction to the coronavirus. “We want a strong and coordinated response at the euro-zone and G7 level,” Le Maire said.

Shanghai steps up quarantine measures 

The Shanghai government said all visitors to the city, regardless whether they are from China or abroad, should be quarantined for 14 days if they have visited a country with a serious coronavirus situation within the previous two weeks, state media CCTV reported.

Trump says Fed should ‘cut rate big’ 

President Donald Trump, noting Australia’s central bank rate cut, said the Federal Reserve’s inaction thus far in the face of the coronavirus puts the US at a “competitive disadvantage” and it “must be the other way around”.

HP enterprise cancels, postpones almost everything 

The company said in a statement it cancelled or postponed “nearly all events” that require travel, through April, due to concerns related to the coronavirus.

Japan’s Abe considers law to tackle virus 

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is seeking to pass a law to allow him to declare a state of emergency over the coronavirus. Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party has asked for a meeting between Abe and the heads of opposition parties about the legislation.

Indonesia considers more flight bans 

Indonesia’s government is considering banning flights from Japan, South Korea, Iran and Italy to stem the spread of the coronavirus, Transport Minister Budi Karya Sumadi said. A ban is already in place for flights to and from mainland China.

Teijin drug reported to be effective 

A medical report on the Japanese Association for Infectious Diseases website said Teijin Ltd’s asthma drug Alvesco helped treat three patients who contracted the coronavirus on the Diamond Princess cruise ship.

Teijin shares rose as much as 8.2%, their biggest intraday gain in four years.

RBA cuts rates to fight virus fallout 

Reserve Bank of Australia Governor Philip Lowe reduced the cash rate by a quarter percentage point to 0.5%, a new record low, and said the central bank is prepared to ease monetary policy further to support the economy.

The outbreak “is having a significant effect on the Australian economy at present, particularly in the education and travel sectors. The uncertainty that it is creating is also likely to affect domestic spending,” Lowe said in a statement.

Georgia State confirms first infections 

State officials confirmed the US state of Georgia’s first coronavirus infections in two residents of Fulton County who live in the same household. One recently returned from Italy, the center of the outbreak in Europe. Both individuals have mild symptoms and are isolated at home.

Massachusetts health authorities said a woman in her 20s who lives in Norfolk County is thought to be the state’s second coronavirus case. The woman traveled to Italy with a school group and is recovering at home. Massachusetts officials have tested 12 residents for the virus since January.

Indonesia plans stimulus No. 2

Indonesia is working on a second stimulus package, adding to the central bank’s aggressive moves to counter the impact of the coronavirus on markets.

A new tranche of fiscal measures would be bigger than the first one of 10.3 trillion rupiah ($725 million) announced last week, Coordinating Minister for the Economy Airlangga Hartarto said in an interview Monday.

South Korea ‘at war’ with virus 

South Korea is “at war” with the novel coronavirus, said President Moon Jae-in as infections mount, according to a pool report from a cabinet meeting.

Moon asked all agencies to operate a 24-hour emergency system to monitor the situation, and the government will directly and indirectly input more than 30 trillion won to fight the outbreak and minimize its impact on the economy.

Hong Kong to send rescue flights to Wuhan

The government will arrange four charter flights to pick up 533 Hong Kong residents stranded in Hubei province on Wednesday and Thursday, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said at a weekly briefing.

Pregnant women, people who require treatment for existing illnesses and university entrance-exam takers are among those in the first batch.

Australia works on ‘targeted’ plan 

Australia’s Treasury is working with other agencies to address the boost “that we believe will be necessary,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.

“It will be a targeted plan, it will be a measured plan, it will be a scalable plan,” he said at a media briefing.

South Korea confirms 477 more case

Total cases rose to 4,812 from 4,335 at pm Monday, South Korea’s Centres for Disease Control said. The death toll climbed to 28. Of all the country’s infections, 3,600 are from Daegu and 685 from neighbouring North Gyeongsang Province.

Japan ready to take extra steps 

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told Japan’s parliament his government won’t hesitate to introduce additional economic measures if necessary to fight the virus. He pledged to ensure a stable supply of consumer necessities.

Abe last week abandoned his relatively mild approach to the epidemic with a shock announcement urging schools to shut nationwide from Monday.

Big Tech steps up precautions 

Twitter Inc said it’s “strongly encouraging” all its nearly 5,000 global employees to work from home because of virus concerns, marking an escalation among US companies. The San Francisco-based social media giant has already made working from home mandatory for Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea staff.

Facebook Inc followed Twitter in pulling out of this month’s South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas. And Adobe Inc cancelled its Adobe Summit 2020 planned for Las Vegas, saying it instead will hold it online.

New Yorkers get help paying for tests 

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a directive requiring New York health insurers to waive cost-sharing associated with virus test. “We can’t let cost be a barrier to access to Covid-19 testing for any New Yorker,” Cuomo said in a Tweet.

Oregon identifies third likely case

Oregon officials reported what’s probably the state’s third coronavirus case -- and the second transmitted through the community. The adult patient -- a resident of Umatilla County in rural, eastern Oregon -- had not travelled recently to any virus hotspots, officials said.

The individual did, however, attend a basketball game at a local middle school on Saturday, prompting the school district to shut the gym Monday and conduct a deep cleaning. Oregon officials are treating the case as a “presumptive positive”. The state is awaiting test results on five other potential cases, according to an Oregon Health Authority website.

All China’s latest deaths are in Hubei 

China’s death toll from the virus climbed by 31 on March 2 to 2,943, China’s National Health Commission said. All the latest fatalities were in Hubei province, the epicentre of the outbreak. The province had 114 additional confirmed cases on March 2. As a whole, China reported 125 additional infections, the lowest since January, bringing total cases to 80,151.

South Korea screens US-bound flyers

South Korea has begun screening all passengers bound for the US from any of their airports for infection, and Italy will implement similar screening within 12 hours, US Vice President Mike Pence said at the White House.

The process will entail “multiple temperature checks in the airports for people before they are boarding,” Pence said at a briefing for reporters with federal health officials. The US has already restricted travel from China and Iran to prevent infected people from entering the country.

Trump meets with drugmakers 

President Donald Trump asked drugmakers what his administration can do to speed up the development of drugs or vaccines to treat the new coronavirus.

“We are going to be very successful,” Trump said at a White House meeting with Gilead Sciences Inc, Pfizer Inc, Moderna Inc and other pharmaceutical and biotechnology firms. “A lot of exciting things are happening, and they’re happening very rapidly.”

Trump didn’t go into specifics on what measures the government might take to help them.

Gilead to test antiviral in Washington State 

Executives from Gilead Sciences Inc, Johnson & Johnson, GlaxoSmithKline Plc, Sanofi, Pfizer Inc and other manufacturers told US President Donald Trump they were making rapid progress on vaccines and antivirals to combat the virus.

The manufacturers said they hope to have antiviral treatments ready within months and vaccines by next year. Gilead Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Daniel O’Day told Trump his company may test a promising antiviral in Washington state.

Four more die in Washington; state prepares for spread 

Four more people have died from the coronavirus in Washington State, and local officials said they’re preparing to isolate large numbers of patients for what they anticipate could be a significant outbreak.

The deaths have been centred around a nursing home near Seattle in Kirkland, where there are a large number of suspected patients. In total, there are at least 18 cases in the state, with at least 14 in King County and four in Snohomish County.

Local authorities said they’re preparing for a wider outbreak and plan to purchase a hotel and set up modular units to house and isolate patients.

“We have moved to a new stage in the fight to contain, mitigate and manage this outbreak,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine.

Trump team weighs virus response 

The Trump administration is discussing a series of steps to contain the economic and market fallout from the rapidly spreading coronavirus, including a push for the Federal Reserve to enact an emergency rate cut and a possible tax cut.

The director of the National Economic Council, Larry Kudlow, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin both favour the Fed cutting interest rates before its next scheduled meeting on March 17 and 18, according to people familiar with the matter. Within the White House, a rate cut is currently the most actively discussed economic measure to combat the virus, the people said.

Tech giants postpone, alter conferences 

Intel Corp, the world’s biggest chipmaker, postponed a science fair that was was scheduled to be held in San Francisco on March 12. Nvidia Corp said it’s turned its GPU Technology Conference into a digital event. The company’s annual San Jose, California-based event is attended by thousands each year. The three-day conference, which focuses on graphics technology, begins on March 23.

Coronavirus likely at ‘pandemic proportions,’ Fauci says 

National Institutes of Health infectious-disease expert Anthony Fauci told NBC News that the coronavirus outbreak has “now reached outbreak proportions and likely pandemic proportions,” a reporter at the network said in a tweet.

In the interview, Fauci said the US may have to consider social mitigation acts, such as temporarily closing schools and events with large crowds in confined spaces. “We’re not ready for it right now, but we need to be at least thinking about the possibility,” Fauci said, according to the reporter.

WHO team arrives in Iran with kits, garments 

A World Health Organization team arrived in Iran Monday with sufficient kits to test 100,000 people for the coronavirus and protective garments for 15,000 health-care workers.

Iran, the hub of the outbreak in the Middle East, said Monday that the number of confirmed cases surged by 523 to 1,501. So far 66 people there have died from the infection, the health ministry said.

Tedros Adhamon Ghebreyesus, the head of the WHO, urged countries not to give up on containment as a strategy, saying it will help buy time to develop a vaccine and prepare health systems.

“It’s not influenza, and it’s not behaving like influenza,” said Michael Ryan, the director of the WHO’s Health Emergencies Program, at the WHO’s daily briefing. He said the death rate is 2% or possibly higher. That would be at least 20 times more than for seasonal flu, which typically has a death rate of about 0.1%.

Trump to attend health conference in Orlando 

President Donald Trump is scheduled to attend a global health event on March 9 in Orlando, Florida, according to a US official, as his administration seeks to demonstrate it’s doing a good job responding to the coronavirus.

The conference, called HIMSS20 Global Health Conference & Exhibition, brings together about 45,000 health-information technology professionals, clinicians and others, according to its website.

Pence to meet with airline, cruise ship CEOs 

US Vice President Mike Pence is set to meet with airline chief executive officers on Wednesday and cruise line CEOs on Saturday, according to a Trump administration official, as stocks of those companies fall as a result of concern over the coronavirus.

Pence also is set to meet with executives of 3M Co. on Thursday. The company will need to ramp up production of a type of medical mask that the Trump administration said is needed if a significant outbreak occurs in the US

Russia reports first case in Moscow 

Russia reported its first case in Moscow. The patient is a Moscow resident who had travelled to Italy, according to the government’s special anti-virus headquarters. Two other cases were reported last month in Chinese nationals in Siberia, while another three Russians with coronavirus were brought back to the city of Kazan from the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan.

S&P 500 gains after worst week since 2008 

The S&P 500 advanced Monday after suffering the worst week for the benchmark since 2008. Technology shares led gains as central banks from Japan to England joined the Federal Reserve in promising action as warranted.

UK now has 51 confirmed cases

LONDON: The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Britain has risen to 51, health minister Matt Hancock said on Tuesday, up from 39 the previous day.

Earlier, the government unveiled its "battle plan" to tackle the spread of coronavirus, warning that as many as a fifth of employees could be off work at the peak of the outbreak.

WTO sees ‘substantial’ impact on world economy 

The impact of Covid-19 on the global economy will “likely be substantial,” World Trade Organization Director-General Roberto Azevedo told a meeting of trade delegates in Geneva Monday.

The effects will start to show up in the trade data in the coming weeks, he said. The WTO’s June ministerial meeting in Kazakhstan is “proceeding as planned. Should the situation so demand we will take any necessary action.”

BMW worker in Munich tests positive 

An employee at BMW AG has tested positive for coronavirus, prompting the company to quarantine about 150 workers at its research and development centre in Munich, according to a spokesperson.

The employee hadn’t travelled and is under medical supervision, the spokesperson said. Work at the centre continues uninterrupted, though the 150 employees who had been in contact with the infected person will stay at home for two weeks.

Guindos says ECB ready to act if needed 

“The coronavirus added a new layer of uncertainty to global and euro-area growth prospects,” ECB Vice President Luis de Guindos said in London. The outbreak has the potential to affect the euro area economy through both demand and supply, he said. “We remain vigilant and will closely monitor all incoming data.”

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