Covid-19: Global cases climb; Korea infections top 1,000

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MINNEAPOLIS (Feb 26): The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Americans to prepare for a potential coronavirus outbreak at home, while mounting cases across the Middle East, Europe and Asia sparked concern the outbreak is widening into a pandemic.

South Korea has emerged as a hot spot for the virus, with infections surging to more than 1,000 from only 51 a week ago. A U.S. soldier in South Korea became the first American military case reported. A Brazilian patient tested preliminary positive for the coronavirus, in what would be the first infection in Latin America.

In Japan, companies including Shiseido Co. are asking employees to work from home as cases pop up in office buildings. The heightened fears roiled financial markets again, with Asian stocks falling after a rout on Wall Street.

Key Developments

  • Global deaths reach 2,761, with cases at 80,987
  • China death toll at 2,715, as Hubei province adds 52 fatalities; mainland cases at 78,064
  • Asian stocks tumble on virus angst
  • Hong Kong sets stimulus package with one-time cash handouts

Danone Cuts Outlook as Virus Weighs on China Sales (2:38 p.m. HK)
Danone lowered its 2020 sales growth target as the coronavirus outbreak weighs on sales of bottled water and infant formula in China, where the French company gets a tenth of its revenue.

Sales will climb 2% to 4% on a like-for-like basis this year, compared with 4% to 5% targeted previously.

The coronavirus will slice about 100 million euros ($109 million) from first-quarter revenue, leading to stagnant like-for-like sales. Investors were already skeptical about Danone’s 2020 targets after the company lowered its outlook for last year in October.

Japan’s Hokkaido Region Reports First Death (2:17 p.m. HK)

Hokkaido prefecture in the far north of Japan reported its first death from the coronavirus. It’s the second fatality in Japan excluding passengers from the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship, which has seen four deaths.

The person was identified only as an elderly patient. Hokkaido has the most cases of the virus in Japan.

Thailand Steps Up Virus Fight (1:48 p.m. HK)

Thailand said it will step up efforts to contain the novel coronavirus after confirming three more cases, taking the country’s total to 40.

Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said in a briefing that Covid-19 has been classified as a dangerous communicable disease. Under the change, anybody with suspect symptoms after visiting a high-risk country must report to the authorities within three hours. Visitors who lie about symptoms or travel history could be deported.

There’s no widespread community transmission of the disease in Thailand yet, Permanent Health Secretary Sukhum Karnchanapimai said at the briefing.

Businesses Rework Asia Supply Chains (12:46 p.m. HK)

More than one-quarter of businesses grappling with coronavirus in Asia say they’re setting up or using supply chains that reduce their reliance on China, according to a survey by the American Chamber of Commerce in Singapore.

Some 28% said they were making such adjustments, and 14% said they were shifting some or all of their supply chains outside of China, according to a poll of members conducted Feb. 12-18 and released Wednesday with Sandpiper Communications. About two-thirds of AmCham members are U.S.-based companies.

The poll offers a glimpse into firms’ evolving strategies as confirmed cases of the virus accelerate in countries within and outside Asia, slamming global financial markets and forcing policy makers to unveil stimulus packages and monetary easing.

Japan Wants Big Events Halted or Scaled Back (12:28 p.m. HK)

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called for major sporting and cultural events to be called off, postponed or scaled down over the next two weeks, saying the move was crucial in preventing the domestic spread of the new coronavirus.

Abe introduced a new government plan on Tuesday to control the disease that called on employers to encourage telework and stagger working hours in an attempt to slow the spread of the disease.

One major concern facing Abe has been whether the virus will derail Tokyo’s plans to host the Summer Olympics later this year. Japanese and Olympic officials have said there is no change to holding the games as planned, but there is a lot at stake for Abe. Tokyo has been preparing for the games for about seven years, spending more than $26 billion to ready the city, according to some estimates.

Hong Kong Unveils $15 Billion Stimulus Package (11:49 a.m. HK)

Hong Kong Financial Secretary Paul Chan announced a HK$120 billion ($15.4 billion) relief package, in an effort to shore up economic confidence in a city battered by political unrest and the coronavirus.

The main feature of Chan’s annual budget announced Wednesday is a payment of HK$10,000 to each permanent resident of the city 18 or older. He unveiled an official forecast for economic growth this year of between -1.5% and 0.5%, and confirmed a contraction of 1.2% in 2019.

The administration of Chief Executive Carrie Lam is seeking to put a floor under the collapsing economy, rolling out a bolder budget than has been seen in recent years. Months of political unrest pushed Hong Kong last year into its first annual recession in a decade, with economists forecasting a second annual contraction in 2020 as disruptions from the coronavirus outbreak further depress the city’s output.

Cathay Boss Thanks Staff as 75% Take Unpaid Leave (11:29 a.m. HK)

More than 25,000 Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. staff have agreed to take unpaid leave, according to an internal memo from Chief Executive Officer Augustus Tang, in which he thanked employees for their support as the airline contends with the impact of the coronavirus.

The CEO, who took over last year after his predecessor Rupert Hogg was ousted amid the fallout from anti-government protests in Hong Kong, said Cathay’s business challenges “remain acute.” The airline has about 33,000 employees worldwide, with nearly 20,000 in Hong Kong.

Cathay has sharply cut its flight capacity because of the impact the virus has had on travel, presenting a fresh challenge after the protests in Hong Kong weighed on the company’s performance in the second half of 2019.

U.S. Soldier in Korea Confirmed to Have Virus (10:53 a.m. HK)

A U.S. soldier stationed at a military base near Daegu, South Korea, has tested positive for the coronavirus, the first time a U.S. service member has been infected, according to a statement from the United States Forces Command.

The soldier is a 23-year-old male based in Camp Carroll, located about 20 kilometers from Daegu, which has emerged as a hot spot for the outbreak in South Korea. The soldier has a history of visiting Camp Walker, located inside Daegu, the statement said.

Brazilian Tests Positive in First Latin America Case (10:44 a.m. HK)

A 61-year-old man in Sao Paulo tested positive for the new coronavirus, in what can be the first case of the disease in Latin America.

A counter-test is being made by Brazil’s reference hospital, Instituto Adolfo Lutz, the Health Ministry said in a statement published on its website and in its Twitter account.

The man traveled to Northern Italy for work Feb. 9 through Feb. 21, and has mild symptoms that match the ones of a suspected Covid-19 infection, the statement said.

China Reports 406 Additional Coronavirus Cases (9:50 a.m. HK)

China reported 406 new cases from the coronavirus, bringing the total number of cases in the country to 78,064. China’s death toll rose by 52 to 2,715, with all the fatalities occurring in Hubei province.

A total of 29,745 patients have been discharged from hospitals since the outbreak, the commission said.

Hubei province, where the outbreak originated, reported 401 additional confirmed cases.

South Korean Cases Jump to 1,146 (8:37 a.m. HK)

South Korea confirmed 169 more coronavirus cases, bringing total infections to 1,146. A week ago, the country had only 51 cases.

Among the 169 new cases, 134 were from Daegu, the epicenter of the outbreak in South Korea.

Japan will ban entry for foreigners who have visited Daegu city or Cheongdo country, Kyodo reported, citing unidentified government officials.

About two dozen other countries, including Singapore, have set in place travel restrictions for South Koreans, according to the South Korean foreign ministry.

Researchers Make Advances in Virus Testing (8:52 a.m. HK)

A medical research team in Singapore has managed to establish links between cases in the city-state using a new testing method.

Using a serological test developed by researchers from the Duke-NUS Medical School, the team was able to confirm that two individuals had earlier been infected with the coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, the Ministry of Health announced Tuesday. Serological tests identify antibodies in blood samples, which the immune system produces in response to an infection.

The researchers had earlier successfully cultured the COVID-19 virus in less than a week after Singapore confirmed its first case, the ministry said. Using the virus and genetic material derived from the virus, the research team then developed several specific laboratory tests to detect the virus-specific antibodies for contact tracing and other applications, according to the statement.

Market Plunge Is ‘Tip of the Iceberg’: Elizabeth Warren (7:42 a.m. HK)

Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren said the 1,800-point plunge in the stock markets this week is only the “tip of the iceberg” of a growing economic threat from the coronavirus and accused the Trump administration of “bungling” its response to the outbreak.

“Without swift action, supply chain disruptions and reduced purchases will have severe, long-term effects on our entire economy,” Warren said on Twitter. “The government should be helping American manufacturers find alternative sources for parts and production and helping American exporters find new purchasers.”

Warren released a plan to contain and fight infectious diseases like coronavirus in January.

Kudlow Urges Calm After CDC Virus Warning (1:40 p.m. NY)

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow called for calm after U.S. health officials said that an outbreak inside the U.S. could cause significant disruptions to daily life if emergency plans were put into place.

“I think people should be as calm as possible in assessing this,” Kudlow said at the White House. “Emergency plans don’t necessarily mean they’ll have to be put into place.”

There have been fewer than 20 coronavirus cases diagnosed in the U.S., though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said it expects the pathogen to eventually spread locally.

“We have contained this, I won’t say airtight, but pretty close to airtight,” Kudlow said. He called it a human tragedy because of the toll in China, but said it was not an economic one.

Cases Grow in Italy and Across Europe (1:02 p.m. NY)

Italy saw its 10th casualty from the coronavirus outbreak, with 322 confirmed cases nationwide, as the infection began to appear across Europe and threatened to further disrupt tourism and business. Health ministers in Germany, France, Italy and other neighboring countries vowed to keep Europe’s borders open and to improve information-sharing about travelers to and from areas with infections.

Spain’s authorities held about 1,000 guests and workers at a seaside hotel on Tenerife, in the Canary Islands, after an Italian tourist there initially tested positive for the virus. Croatia and Switzerland reported their first cases, and Austria confirmed two more. All the patients had links to Italy.

CDC Warns Americans to Prepare for Outbreak (12:53 p.m. NY)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Americans should prepare for school closings, cancellations of sporting events, concerts and business meetings if the coronavirus spreads in the U.S.

“We expect we will see community spread in this country,” Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said on a call with reporters Tuesday. “It is not a matter of if, but a question of when, this will exactly happen.”

The outbreak is “rapidly evolving and expanding,” she said. “Now is the time” for businesses, schools and hospitals to begin preparing. She said that Americans should prepare for the coronavirus epidemic on our shores and to assume it will be bad.

U.S. Is Short on Masks in Case of American Outbreak (11:30 a.m. NY)

The U.S. has far fewer protective masks than it would need in the case of a major outbreak of the coronavirus in the country, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told Congress Tuesday.

The U.S. has about 30 million stockpiled N95 masks that can help stop a person from inhaling infective particles, Azar said, but would need as much as 300 million for health workers in an outbreak. U.S. health officials have said they’re preparing for the coronavirus to eventually begin spreading locally.

Gilead Drug Being Tested on Evacuees in Nebraska (11:20 a.m. NY)

Gilead’s antiviral drug remdesivir will be tested on coronavirus patients at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, which is housing people who were evacuated from a virus-infested cruise ship in Japan, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said.

Although remdesivir has been administered to some patients with the virus, “we do not have solid data to indicate it can improve clinical outcomes,” said Anthony S. Fauci, director of the institute, said in a statement.

The first trial participant is an American who was repatriated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship that docked in Japan. So far, 11 of the 13 patients who were repatriated from the ship to the Nebraska hospital have been confirmed to have the coronavirus.

Remdesivir is also being tested in trials in China and Japan, said U.S. Heath and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar at a Senate hearing Tuesday.

Pompeo Criticizes China, Iran Reponse (10 a.m. NY)

U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo criticized China and Iran’s response to the coronavirus, saying that suppression of information about the infection may have made the outbreak worse or put other countries on the back foot.

“The United States is deeply concerned that the Iranian regime may have suppressed vital details about the outbreak in that country,” Pompeo said at a press conference in Washington. At least 15 people in Iran are dead, authorities there have said, though there are reports of higher numbers and hundreds of potential cases.

Pompeo also criticized Chinese authorities, after the government said it would expel three Wall Street Journal reporters. In the province of Hubei, where the outbreak began, some early warnings of a new virus were initially suppressed.

“Expelling our journalists exposes once again the government’s issue that led to SARS, and now the coronavirus -- namely censorship. It can have deadly consequences. Had China permitted its own and foreign journalists and medical personnel to speak and investigate freely, Chinese officials and other nations would have been far better prepared to address the challenge.”

Top Iranian Health Official Tests Positive (7:32 a.m. NY)

A top Iranian health official has been diagnosed with coronavirus in another sign the disease may be spiraling out of control in the country. Iraj Harirchi, a deputy health minister who has been the face of the government’s campaign against the virus, said he tested positive for it late Monday, the day he gave a press briefing on efforts to combat the outbreak.

Separately, Tehran lawmaker Mahmoud Sadeghi tweeted that he had tested positive. Sadeghi is a prominent reformist who was barred from participating in the latest parliamentary elections.

Earlier on Tuesday, Iran reported 34 new cases, with the death toll rising to 15. Bahrain reported nine new cases, while Kuwait has an additional three and Oman another two. So far, there are about 140 confirmed cases in the Middle East, all of them linked to Iran.