China sees fall in coronavirus deaths, WHO urges caution, Apple takes hit

By Ryan Woo and Stephanie Nebehay

BEIJING/GENEVA (Reuters) – China reported its fewest new coronavirus infections since January on Tuesday and its lowest daily death toll for a week, but the World Health Organization said data suggesting the epidemic had slowed should still be viewed with caution.

The head of a leading hospital in China’s central city of Wuhan, epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak, died of the disease on Tuesday, becoming one of the most prominent victims since the disease first appeared at the end of last year.

Illustrating the economic impact of the outbreak, European shares dropped on Tuesday after Apple Inc issued a revenue warning due to the disruption the disease is causing to global supply chains.

Chinese officials reported 1,886 new cases – the first time the daily figure has fallen below 2,000 since Jan. 30 – bringing the mainland China total to 72,436. A figure of 98 new deaths marked the first time the daily toll in China had fallen below 100 since Feb. 11, bringing the total to 1,868.

Sanitation workers disinfect a residential compound, as the country is hit by an outbreak of the novel coronavirus, in Bozhou, Anhui province, China February 18, 2020. China Daily via REUTERS

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Chinese data “appears to show a decline in new cases” but any apparent trend “must be interpreted very cautiously”.

Outside China, there have been 827 cases of the disease, known as COVID-19, and five deaths, according to a Reuters count based on official statements. More than half of those cases have been on a cruise ship quarantined off Japan.

Tedros said there had been 92 cases of human-to-human spread of the coronavirus in 12 countries outside China but the WHO did not have the data to make meaningful comparisons to what was going on in China.

“We have not seen sustained local transmission of coronavirus except in specific circumstances like the Diamond Princess cruise ship,” he said.

China says figures indicating a slowdown in new cases in recent days show that aggressive steps it has taken to curb travel and commerce are slowing the spread of the disease beyond central Hubei province and its capital, Wuhan.

The WHO’s Mike Ryan said China had had success with “putting out the fire” first in Hubei and ensuring that people returning to Beijing from the Lunar New Year holiday are monitored.

The numbers appear encouraging, said Mark Woolhouse, a professor of infectious disease epidemiology at Britain’s University of Edinburgh, who described himself as cautious.

“Though it is unrealistic to reduce the transmission rate to zero it may have been reduced to a level where the epidemic is brought under control,” Woolhouse said.

“It may be that the epidemic is simply running its natural course, and is starting to run out of new people to infect. It could also be that the unprecedented public health measures introduced in China are having the desired effect.”

Chinese state television said Liu Zhiming, the director of Wuhan Wuchang Hospital, died on Tuesday, the seventh health worker to fall victim. The hospital was designated solely for treating virus-infected patients.

GLOBAL REPERCUSSIONS

Despite global concerns about the economic impact of the disease, China’s ambassador to the European Union said on Tuesday this would be “limited, short-term and manageable” and that Beijing had enough resources to step in if needed.

Chinese state television quoted President Xi Jinping as saying China could still meet its economic growth target for 2020 despite the epidemic.

Economists are warning of potential mass layoffs in China later this year if the virus is not contained soon.

“The employment situation is OK in the first quarter, but if the virus is not contained by end-March, then from the second quarter, we’ll see a big round of layoffs,” said Dan Wang, an analyst with the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU). Job losses could run as high as 4.5 million, he forecast.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in said the economy there was in an emergency situation and required stimulus as the epidemic had disrupted demand for South Korean goods.

Singapore announced a $4.5 billion financial package to help contain the outbreak in the city-state and weather its economic impact.

Singapore Airlines Ltd said it would temporarily cut flights in the three months to May, as the epidemic hits demand for services touching and transiting the key travel hub.

Japan, where the economy was already shrinking and the epidemic has created fears of recession, the spread of the virus has prompted Tokyo to put limits on public crowds while some companies are telling employees to work from home.

(Reporting by Ryan Woo in Beijing and Samuel Shen in Shanghai; Additional reporting by Lusha Zhang, Gabriel Crossley and Se Young Lee in Beijing, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and Jan Strupczewski in Brussels; Writing by Raju Gopalakrishnan, Peter Graff and Nick Macfie; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Gareth Jones)

About 350 U.S. evacuees from virus-hit Chinese city land at California air base

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Two planes carrying about 350 Americans out of Wuhan, China, arrived at a U.S. military base in California on Wednesday, in Washington’s latest effort to bring its citizens home from the epicenter of the fast-spreading coronavirus outbreak.

The U.S. travelers on two State Department-chartered flights will be quarantined for 14 days after landing, the U.S. Defense Department said in a statement.

The jets landed at Travis Air Force Base, about midway between San Francisco and Sacramento, several local media reported, showing images of two planes on the tarmac.

One of the planes will continue on to Miramar Marine Corps Air Station in San Diego after refueling, the Pentagon said. Itwas due to arrive at Miramar between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. Pacific time (between 1400 and 1700 GMT), a Marine Corps spokesman said in a statement.

The State Department separately said it may stage additional flights on Thursday but gave no other details.

KGO television showed video of people in white coverall suits getting off the plane in the predawn darkness at Travis Air Force Base.

The evacuees will be housed in a hotel on the base, the base said in a statement on its Facebook page.

“A safety cordon will be established, away from residential housing, to ensure the Travis mission can safely continue, the privacy of the evacuees can be enforced,” the statement said.

The United States and other countries are seeking to evacuate their citizens from China, where the coronavirus outbreak has killed 490 people and infected more than 23,000. Two deaths have been reported outside of the mainland.

U.S. health officials have reported 11 confirmed cases of the virus in the United States so far, including two person-to-person transmissions.

The Trump administration declared a public health emergency on Jan. 31, and announced the extraordinary measures of barring the entry of foreign nationals who have recently visited China and imposing a mandatory two-week quarantine for travelers from China’s most affected province of Hubei.

The State Department issued a “Do Not Travel” to China advisory to U.S. citizens, advising them to return on commercial flights if possible, though many commercial airlines have suspended flights to or from major Chinese cities.

U.S. officials have also restricted flights from China to 11 designated airports deemed capable of carrying out enhanced health screening.

Nearly 200 Americans were evacuated late last month, mostly U.S. diplomats and their families, and were flown to March Air Force Base east of Los Angeles.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey and Daniel Trotta; Editing by Andrew Heavens, Bernadette Baum and Bill Berkrot)

Data suggests virus infections under-reported, exaggerating fatality rate

Data suggests virus infections under-reported, exaggerating fatality rate
By Cate Cadell

BEIJING (Reuters) – Fatalities from the coronavirus epidemic are overwhelmingly concentrated in central China’s Wuhan city, which accounts for over 73% of deaths despite having only one-third the number of confirmed infections.

In Wuhan, the epicenter of the disease, one person has died for every 23 infections reported. That number drops to one on 50 nationally, and outside mainland China, one death has been recorded per 114 confirmed cases.

Get Reuters full coverage on the coronavirus by following this link.

Experts say the discrepancy is mainly due to under-reporting of milder virus cases in Wuhan and other parts of Hubei province that are grappling with shortages in testing equipment and beds.

“In an outbreak your really have to interpret fatality rates with a very skeptical eye, because often it’s only the very severe cases that are coming to people’s attention,” said Amesh Adalja, an expert in pandemic preparedness at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in Baltimore.

“It’s very hard to say those numbers represent anything like the true burden of infection” said Adalja, who estimates current fatality rates are likely below 1%.

As of Tuesday, 24,551 cases have been confirmed globally. A 1% fatality rate would put total cases at over 49,000, based on the current death toll of 492.

Gauden Galea, the World Health Organisation (WHO) representative for China, told Reuters on Sunday that a “crude calculation” done by dividing total cases by deaths put the rate at 2% and said the rate was generally falling.

“Trying to really demystify those fatality numbers by including mildly symptomatic cases will help people to better understand the risk,” said Adalja.

CLUSTER OF DEATHS

In Wuhan, some patients with milder symptoms have been turned away from hospitals in recent weeks because of the strain on resources, several people in the city told Reuters. Others have opted to self-isolate.

Wuhan resident Meiping Wang said she and her sister both believe they have mild cases of the virus after their mother tested positive, but have not been tested.

“There is no use going to the hospital because there is no treatment,” Wang, 31, said in a telephone interview.

Under-reporting mild cases – which increases fatality rates – could have a negative social and economic impact as global health authorities race to contain the disease.

“It’s good to remember that when H1N1 influenza came out in 2009, estimates of case fatality were 10 percent,” said David Fisman, an epidemiologist at the University of Toronto, who was working in public health at the time. “That turned out to be incredibly wrong.”

“As the denominator is growing in terms of case numbers, and case fatality goes down and down… you start to realize it’s everywhere,” he said.

The global response to the coronavirus epidemic has been swift and fierce. Several countries have implemented partial or full travel bans on Chinese travelers.

“There are many actions going on all over the world that really are premised on the idea that this is a very severe illness,” said Johns Hopkins’ Adalja.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Monday that the bans were an unnecessary interruption to travel and trade.

(Reporting by Cate Cadell; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

U.S. confirms 11th case of new coronavirus

(Reuters) – California health officials said on Sunday they had confirmed 11 cases of the new, fast-spreading coronavirus in the United States, with one in Santa Clara County and two more in San Benito County.

In Santa Clara County, a woman and the family she is staying with are being quarantined and she is now in isolation at their home, Santa Clara County health officials told a news conference. The woman was not sick enough to require hospitalization, it added.

The other two cases involve a married couple in San Benito County, the San Benito County Public Health Services announced in a release late Sunday.

The Santa Clara woman, who recently traveled to the epicenter of the outbreak in Wuhan, China, is the second case in Santa Clara reported, health officials said. They said the case is not related to the first case in Santa Clara.

The two additional cases involve a husband and wife, and the husband had recently traveled to Wuhan and apparently transmitted the disease to his wife, San Benito County Public Health Services said in a release late Sunday. Neither patient is hospitalized, officials said.

San Benito County health officials were not immediately available to Reuters for comment.

Santa Clara is located about 40 miles (64 km) southeast of San Francisco. San Benito County is about 80 miles west of Fresno.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) informed county health officials of the case Sunday morning, said Sara Cody, health officer of the Public Health Department of the County of Santa Clara.

The flu-like coronavirus, which is believed to have originated in a market that traded illegally in wildlife in Hubei’s provincial capital, Wuhan, has so far resulted in more than 350 deaths in China. Confirmed cases of the virus have been reported in 27 other nations, according to the CDC.

U.S. health officials have said risks to the United States remain low.

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Leslie Adler and Stephen Coates)

‘Do not travel to China’, says U.S. as virus deaths reach 213

By Brenda Goh and Muyu Xu

SHANGHAI/BEIJING (Reuters) – The United States, Japan and others tightened travel curbs to virus-hit China on Friday while businesses struggled with supply problems from an epidemic that has infected nearly 10,000 people and been declared a global emergency.

Russia, Britain and Italy all reported their first two cases, Rome declaring its own national emergency as it sought to reconstruct the itinerary of two infected Chinese tourists.

Deaths from the outbreak rose to 213, all within China where the coronavirus came from animals in central Wuhan city.

“Do not travel to China due to novel coronavirus first identified in Wuhan,” the U.S. State Department said, raising the warning for China to the same level as Afghanistan and Iraq.

Japan also advised citizens to put off non-urgent travel to China, while Bahrain recommended no travel to any country hit by the virus, and Iran urged a ban on all travelers from China.

Singapore, a major travel hub in Asia, stopped entry of passengers with a recent history of travel to China and also suspended visas for Chinese passport holders.

The ban extends to those just transiting Singapore.

With major fallout inevitable for the world’s No. 2 economy, global shares were heading for their biggest weekly losses since August on Friday, and oil and metals markets were showing even more brutal damage. [MKTS/GLOB]

The outbreak could “reverberate globally”, Moody’s said.

In the latest impact to big name corporations, South Korea’s Hyundai Motor said it planned to halt production of a sport utility vehicle this weekend to cope with a supply disruption caused by the outbreak. Sangyong Motor said it would idle its plant in the South Korean city of Pyeongtaek from Feb. 4-12 for the same reason.

Home appliance maker Electrolux issued a similar warning. And French carmaker PSA Peugeot Citroen said its three plants in Wuhan will remain closed until mid-February.

BEIJING: “WE WILL WIN”

After holding off as the crisis grew, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday the epidemic in China now constituted a public health emergency of international concern.

In response, Beijing said it had taken “the most comprehensive and rigorous prevention and control measures”.

“We have full confidence and capability to win this fight,” added foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying.

The roughly 60 million residents of Hubei province, where Wuhan is the capital, have had movements curbed to try and slow the spread. But some people were leaving and entering the area by foot on a bridge over the Yangtze river, a Reuters witness said, and infections have jumped in two cities flanking Wuhan.

Wuhan’s Communist Party chief said the city should have acted earlier to contain the virus.

The number of confirmed cases in China has risen beyond 9,800, Beijing’s envoy to the United Nations in Vienna said.

More than 130 cases have been reported in at least 24 other countries and regions. German cases rose to six with the infection of a child.

The WHO has reported at least eight cases of human-to-human transmission – as opposed to people coming infected from China – in four countries: the United States, Germany, Japan and Vietnam. Thailand said it too had such a case.

EVACUATION FLIGHTS

Amid the rising public alarm, which has also brought a wave of anti-China sentiment around the world, various major airlines have stopped flying to mainland China, including Air France KLM SA, British Airways, Lufthansa and Virgin Atlantic [VA.UL]. Others have cut flights.

Russia said all direct flights to China would be halted on Friday, with the exception of national airline Aeroflot.

Governments around the world are evacuating citizens from Hubei and putting them in quarantine. A plane with 83 British and 27 foreign nationals landed in Britain on Friday.

Japan, with 14 confirmed cases, has sent three flights to bring citizens home. The first of four planned flights taking South Koreans home landed on Friday.

Seeking to prevent panic, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has commended China for its efforts and said the global health body was not recommending curbs on travel or trade with Beijing.

A WHO spokesman said keeping borders open actually helped by preventing illegal or unofficial crossings.

China’s statistics show just over 2% of infected people have died, suggesting the virus is less deadly than the 2002-2003 outbreak of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

But economists fear its impact could be bigger than SARS, which killed about 800 people at an estimated cost of $33 billion to the global economy, since China’s share of the world economy is now far greater.

There was rare good news, however, for movie fans as cinema attendance plummets across China: martial arts film “Enter the Fat Dragon” was to premiere via video streaming on Saturday, its makers said, after dropping plans for a theater debut.

(GRAPHIC: Tracking the novel coronavirus – https://graphics.reuters.com/CHINA-HEALTH-MAP/0100B59S39E/index.html)

(Reporting by Brenda Goh in Shanghai, Muyu Xu and Cate Cadell in Beijing; Martin Pollard in Jiujiang, Felix Tam and Clare Jim in Hong Kong; John Geddie and Aradhana Aravindan in Singapore; Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Michelle Nichols at the U.N.; Gilles Guillaume in Paris; Dylan Martinez in Brize Norton; Maria Tsvetkova in Moscow; David Shepardson in Washington; Writing by Michael Perry and Nick Macfie; Editing by Timothy Heritage and Andrew Cawthorne)

 

Australia defends choice of remote detention center to house locals evacuated from Wuhan

Australia defends choice of remote detention center to house locals evacuated from Wuhan
By Colin Packham

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia’s conservative government on Thursday defended its decision to use a detention center thousands of kilometers from the mainland to quarantine locals evacuated from Wuhan, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in China.

Australia on Wednesday said it would evacuate “isolated and vulnerable” locals from Wuhan as part of a joint operation with New Zealand.

Some health officials have criticized the decision to move those people to Christmas Island – about 2,600km (1,616 miles) from Australia and that had been used to hold thousands of refugees between 2002 and 2018.

Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton said Australia has no other choice.

“The reality is people need to be accommodated for somewhere for up to 14 days. I can’t clear out a hospital in Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane,” Dutton told reporters in Canberra. “I don’t have a facility otherwise that we can quickly accommodate for what might be many hundreds of people and Christmas Island is purpose-built for exactly this scenario.”

The detention center on Christmas Island was reopened last year after a decade of being idled. It houses a Tamil family whom Australia wants to deport to Sri Lanka.

Australia, which has seven cases of coronavirus, said about 600 people have told the government they are in Wuhan, though Prime Minister Scott Morrison said it was not clear how many wanted to leave China.

Morrison said priority would be given to infants and elderly people.

On Thursday, the global death toll from the epidemic hit 170 people, while the number of infected patients rose to 7,711.

Australia’s defense of its policy came as several countries began isolating hundreds of citizens evacuated from Wuhan.

Nearly 200 Americans, mostly U.S. diplomats and their families, airlifted from Wuhan on Wednesday, will remain isolated at a U.S. military base in California for at least 72 hours of medical observation, public health officials said.

A second flight with Japanese evacuees from Wuhan landed in Japan on Thursday, with nine people showing symptoms of fever or coughing, broadcaster NHK reported. The first flight landed on Wednesday and at least one more is expected in coming days.

New Zealand on Thursday said it would charter an aircraft to assist citizens wanting to leave Wuhan.

(Reporting by Colin Packham. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

U.S., Japan pull nationals from China, big virus economic hit forecast

By Se Young Lee and Cheng Leng

BEIJING/SHANGHAI (Reuters) – The United States and Japan flew nationals out of China’s virus epicenter on Wednesday and some big-name airlines suspended flights as deaths leapt to 133 and a senior economist predicted a major impact on growth.

Beijing’s plans to slay the “devil” coronavirus may have won the trust of the World Health Organization (WHO), but confirmation of another 1,459 cases – taking the total to 5,974 in China – only fueled global public alarm.

Deaths from the flu-like virus also rose by 27 to 133.

Almost all have been in the central province of Hubei, the capital of which is Wuhan, where the virus emerged last month in a live wild animal market.

The situation remained “grim and complex”, Chinese President Xi Jinping acknowledged.

(Follow Reuters full coverage of the coronavirus http://graphics.reuters.com/CHINA-HEALTH/0100B59Y39P/index.html )

In many Chinese cities, streets were largely deserted with the few who ventured out wearing masks. Starbucks coffee shops required people to have temperatures taken and masks on.

“It’s my first time here in Asia, I feel very unlucky,” said Brazilian tourist Amanda Lee, 23, cutting short a trip. “I couldn’t even see the places I wanted, like the Great Wall.”

There was relief, however, among evacuees from Hubei province, home to about 60 million people and under virtual lockdown. “I was extremely worried that I was stuck there,” said Takeo Aoyama, who arrived in Tokyo on a chartered plane carrying 206 Japanese out of Wuhan.

The United States flew about 210 citizens out of Wuhan, to be screened several times on arrival in California. Britain said it would put 200 citizens on a charter plane on Thursday.

The virus is weighing heavily on the world’s second-biggest economy, with companies cutting corporate travel to China and tourists cancelling trips. Various airlines are cutting flights, from British Airways and Lufthansa to Tanzania’s national carrier that postponed maiden flights.

A government economist said the crisis could cut China’s first quarter growth by one point to 5% or lower as the crisis hits sectors from mining to luxury goods.

Hong Kong stocks took a beating on the first day of trading after the Lunar New Year break. Casino and financial stocks led the Hang Seng index 2.5% lower to a seven-month trough.

Regional markets, however, arrested their slide, with stocks in Japan, Australia, South Korea and India steady or firmer and currencies mostly stable.

“In our view, the worst is yet to come,” securities firm Nomura said, warning of a severe, near-term blow to China’s economy.

‘SPREADING AT BREAKNECK SPEED’

But in a potentially major step toward finding a vaccine, scientists in Australia said they had developed a lab-grown version of the virus, the first recreated outside China.

The researchers at the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity said they would share the sample, grown from an infected patient, with the WHO and global laboratories in the hope of hastening immunization and detection.

Australia’s government said it would help some citizens leave and quarantine them on Christmas Island, best known for housing asylum seekers.

The number of cases in China now exceeds its tally of 5,327 infected with the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) that killed about 800 people globally in 2002 and 2003.

While some experts believe the new strain, known as “2019-nCoV”, is not as deadly as SARS, alarm has grown over its rapid spread and many unknown attributes, such as how lethal it is.

“There have been more cases in China, but so far with a lower death rate than the SARS outbreak,” said Michael Head, a health researcher at Britain’s University of Southampton.

“A pandemic is typically called by the World Health Organization after there has been sustained transmission across many countries. Though there have been cases reported in several countries now, we’re not quite at that stage of sustained transmission yet.”

Like other respiratory infections, the new virus is spread by droplets from coughs and sneezes, with an incubation time between one and 14 days.

About 60 cases, but no deaths, have been reported in 15 other countries. In the first known cases in the Middle East, the United Arab Emirates diagnosed four members of a Chinese family who arrived from Wuhan with the coronavirus.

Hubei governor Wang Xiaodong said the outbreak in Huanggang city was also severe and it must not be allowed to become a second Wuhan. Companies in the province should not resume work before Feb. 13, he told reporters.

“The most difficult part is to be at home most of the day. It is more safe to stay away from other people,” said Emilia, 28, a research scientist and Russian national in Wuhan.

U.N. children’s agency UNICEF sent six tonnes of masks and protective suits for healthcare workers. “This coronavirus is spreading at a breakneck speed and it is important to put all the necessary resources into halting it,” said executive director Henrietta Fore.

(Reporting by Lusha Zhang, Gabriel Crossley, Tony Munroe, Huizhong Wu, Cheng Leng, Judy Hua, Nanlin Fang and Joyce Zhou in Beijing; Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols at the United Nations, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Matthias Blamont in Paris, Akira Tomoshige in Tokyo, Kate Kelland in London, Ben Blanchard in Taipei; Writing by Robert Birsel and Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Nick Macfie)

China sure of slaying ‘devil’ virus, Hong Kong to cut links

Tony Munroe and Muyu Xu

BEIJING (Reuters) – President Xi Jinping said on Tuesday China was sure of defeating a “devil” coronavirus that has killed 106 people, spread across the world and rattled financial markets.

Despite his confidence, alarm was rising, with nations from France to Japan organizing evacuations and Hong Kong – scene of anti-China unrest for months – planning to suspend high-speed rail and ferry links with the mainland.

A medical worker in protective suit checks the body temperature of a driver at a checkpoint outside the city of Yueyang, Hunan Province, near the border to Hubei Province that is on lockdown after an outbreak of a new coronavirus, China, January 28, 2020. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

Among countries pulling nationals out of Wuhan, the central city of 11 million people where the outbreak started, the United States’ Embassy in Beijing said a chartered plane would take its consulate staff away on Wednesday.

World Health Organisation (WHO) chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and Xi met in Beijing to discuss how to protect Chinese and foreigners in areas affected by the virus and “possible” evacuation alternatives, a WHO spokesman said.

 

“The virus is a devil and we cannot let the devil hide,” state television quoted Xi as saying.

“China will strengthen international cooperation and welcomes the WHO participation in virus prevention … China is confident of winning the battle against the virus.”

Investors are fretting about the impact on the world’s second-biggest economy amid travel bans and an extended Lunar New Year holiday. Global stocks fell again, oil prices hit three-month lows and China’s yuan currency dipped to its weakest in 2020.

A WHO panel of 16 independent experts twice last week declined to declare an international emergency. Traditionally, the WHO is reluctant to antagonize or ostracize countries dealing with epidemics for fear of undermining future willingness to report cases of infectious disease outbreaks.

GRAPHIC: Number of confirmed cases rockets – https://graphics.reuters.com/CHINA-HEALTH/0100B56G2WC/coronavirus.jpg

CONTAGION

The flu-like virus has spread overseas, but none of the 106 deaths has been beyond China and all but six were in Wuhan, where the virus emerged last month, probably from illegally-traded wildlife.

The WHO said only one of 45 confirmed cases in 13 countries outside China involved human-to-human transmission, in Vietnam.

But a Japanese official said there was a suspected case of human-to-human transmission there and Germany confirmed a case after a man contracted the virus from a colleague visiting his workplace from Shanghai.

Chinese-ruled Hong Kong said high-speed rail services to the mainland will be suspended from midnight on Thursday, while the number of flights would be halved.

Thailand confirmed six more infections among visitors from China, taking its tally to 14, the highest outside China. Far eastern Russian regions would close their borders with China until Feb. 7, Tass news agency said.

Wuhan is under virtual quarantine, with a lockdown on transport and bans on gatherings. Tens of millions of others in Hubei province, of which Wuhan is the capital, live under some form of travel curbs.

The number of confirmed cases in China surged to 4,515 as of Monday from 2,835 the previous day, the government said.

Communist Party-ruled China has been eager to show it is transparent over this outbreak, after initially covering up the extent of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic that killed about 800 people globally in 2002-2003.

Known as “2019-nCoV”, the newly identified coronavirus can cause pneumonia and, like other respiratory infections, it spreads between people in droplets from coughs and sneezes. It is too early to know what its death rate will be, since there are likely to be many cases of milder disease going undetected.

It has an incubation of between one and 14 days.

Authorities in Hubei, home to nearly 60 million people, have been the focus of public outrage on China’s heavily censored social media over what many see as a bungled initial response.

In rare public self-criticism, Mayor Zhou Xianwang said Wuhan’s management of the crisis was “not good enough” and indicated he was willing to resign.

SARS, also believed to have originated in a wildlife market, led to a 45% plunge in air passenger demand in Asia. The travel industry is more reliant on Chinese travelers now, and China’s share of the global economy has quadrupled.

Analysts said China’s travel and tourism would be the hardest-hit sectors, together with retail and liquor sales, though healthcare and online shopping were likely outperformers.

With Chinese markets shut for the holiday, investors were selling the offshore yuan and the Australian dollar as a proxy for risk. Oil was also under pressure as fears about the wider fallout grew.

The U.S. S&P 500 closed down nearly 1.6%.

(Reporting by Winni Zhou, Sun Yilei, Cheng Leng, David Stanway and Josh Horwitz in Shanghai; Cate Cadell, Gabriel Crossley, Tony Munroe, Muyu Xu and Yawen Chen in Beijing; Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols at the United Nations, Hideyuki Sano in Tokyo, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Kate Kelland in London, Ben Blanchard in Taipei, Waruna Karunatilake in Colombo, Matthias Blamont in Paris; Writing by Robert Birsel, Nick Macfie and Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

China’s Li pledges medical reinforcements as virus toll hits 81

China’s Li pledges medical reinforcements as virus toll hits 81
By Winni Zhou and Josh Horwitz

SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Chinese Premier Li Keqiang will “inspect and direct” efforts to control a virus outbreak in the central city of Wuhan and promised reinforcements, as provincial authorities faced accusations from the public of a failure to respond in time.

World shares slipped to their lowest in two weeks as worries grew about the economic impact of the coronavirus after China, the world’s second-biggest economy, ramped up travel bans and extended the Lunar New Year holidays.

Li, clad in a blue protective suit and mask, thanked medical workers in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province and the epicenter of the outbreak, as the death toll rose to 81.

“Li … thanked frontline medical workers for their all-out efforts in treating patients and urged them to pay attention to their own protection,” Xinhua news agency said.

“He required efforts to guarantee medical resources supply, race against time to treat patients and ensure adequate market supply and stable prices.”

He said 2,500 more medical workers would arrive in the next two days.

Li is the most senior leader to visit Wuhan since the outbreak began. He inspected efforts to contain the epidemic and was shown on state television leading medical workers in chants of “Wuhan jiayou!” – an exhortation to keep their strength up.

He also visited the construction site of a new hospital due to be built in days.

On China’s heavily censored social media, where dissent is typically suppressed, local officials have borne the brunt of mounting public anger about the handling of the virus.

Some lashed out at the Hubei governor, who had to correct himself twice during a news conference over the number of face masks being produced in the province.

“If he can mess up the data multiple times, no wonder the disease has spread so severely,” one Weibo user said.

Wuhan Mayor Zhou Xianwang told state broadcaster CCTV the city’s management of the crisis was “not good enough” – rare public self-criticism for a Chinese official – and said he was willing to resign.

The city of 11 million people is in virtual lockdown and much of Hubei, home to nearly 60 million people, is under some kind of travel curb.

People from Hubei have come under scrutiny within mainland China as well, with many facing suspicion from officials about their recent travels.

“Hubei people are getting discriminated against,” a Wuhan resident complained on the Weibo social media platform.

SHARES TUMBLE

A small number of cases linked to people who traveled from Wuhan have been confirmed in more than 10 countries, including Thailand, France, Japan and the United States, but no deaths have been reported outside China.

Investors are worried about the impact on travel, tourism and broader economic activity. The consensus is that in the short term, economic output will be hit as Chinese authorities impose travel restrictions and extend the week-long Lunar New Year holiday, when millions traditionally travel by rail, road and plane, by three days to limit the spread of the virus.

Asian and European shares tumbled, with Japan’s Nikkei average sliding 2%, its biggest one-day fall in five months. Demand spiked for safe-haven assets such as the Japanese yen and Treasury notes. European stocks fell more than 2%.

During the 2002-2003 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), a coronavirus that originated in China and killed nearly 800 people globally, air passenger demand in Asia plunged 45%. The travel industry is more reliant on Chinese travelers now than it was then.

The total number of confirmed cases in China rose to 2,835, with about half in the central province of Hubei. But some experts suspect the number of infected people is much higher.

Chinese-ruled Hong Kong, which has had eight confirmed cases, banned entry to people who had visited Hubei in the past 14 days.

The number of deaths from the virus in Hubei climbed to 76 from 56, officials said, with five deaths elsewhere in China.

WHO DIRECTOR ARRIVES IN CHINA

The newly identified coronavirus is believed to have originated late last year in a Wuhan market illegally selling wildlife. Much is not known, including how easily it spreads and just how deadly it is.

National Health Commission Minister Ma Xiaowei said on Sunday the incubation period could range from one to 14 days, and the virus was infectious during incubation, unlike SARS.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimated an incubation period of two to 10 days.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had arrived in China and would meet officials working on the response, his agency said.

Some of China’s biggest companies have been affected, with hotpot restaurant chain Haidilao International Holding shutting branches nationwide from Sunday until Friday.

Gaming giant Tencent Holdings Ltd advised staff to work from home until Feb. 7, and e-commerce firm Alibaba removed vendors’ offers of overpriced face masks from its online Taobao marketplace as prices surged.

(Reporting by Winni Zhou, Wu Huizhong, Sun Yilei and Josh Horwitz; Additional reporting by Hideyuki Sano in Tokyo, Lidia Kelly in Sydney, Stephanie Ulmer-Nebehay in Geneva, Kate Kelland in London; Writing by Robert Birsel, Tony Munroe and Nick Macfie; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Alison Williams)

CDC confirms second U.S. case of Wuhan coronavirus

(Reuters) – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday confirmed that a second case of Wuhan coronavirus in the United States had been detected in Chicago, and said as many as 63 people were being monitored as the virus spreads around the globe.

The infected person had traveled to Wuhan, China recently. The woman, 60, had not taken public transportation and was not ill when she traveled, Chicago health authorities said on a conference call.

Of the 63 people under investigation from 22 states, 11 tested negative, CDC said in a conference call with reporters.

The newly discovered virus has killed 26 people and infected more than 800, but most of the cases and all of the deaths so far have been in China, where officials have imposed restrictions on travel and public gatherings.

The CDC said it believes the immediate threat to U.S. residents remains low.

The World Health Organization on Thursday declared the virus an “emergency in China”, but stopped short of declaring it a global health emergency.

(Reporting by Saumya Sibi Joseph in Bengaluru and Julie Steenhuysen in Chicago; Editing by Shinjini Ganguli)