Coronavirus outbreak in China 'may be over by April'

People wearing face masks walk in Beijing's Longtan Park. Photo: Reuters
People wearing face masks walk in Beijing's Longtan Park. Photo: Reuters
The coronavirus outbreak in China may be over by April, the country's senior medical adviser says, and the latest numbers of new cases may further feed that optimism.

Hubei, the province at the epicentre of the outbreak that has been under virtual lockdown, reported 94 people died and there were 1068 new coronavirus cases as of Tuesday.

That is down from a peak of over 3000 new cases on February 4, and the lowest number of new infections since 1347 were reported on January 31.

But total deaths in China have surpassed 1100 and the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned of a global threat potentially worse than terrorism.

The world must "wake up and consider this enemy virus as public enemy number one," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters, adding the first vaccine was 18 months away.

China's foremost medical adviser on the outbreak, Zhong Nanshan, said numbers of new cases were falling in some provinces and forecast the epidemic would peak this month.

"I hope this outbreak or this event may be over in something like April," Zhong, an epidemiologist who played a role in combating an outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2003, told Reuters.

World stocks, which had seen rounds of sell-offs over the coronarvirus' impact on China's economy and its ripple effects, surged to record highs on Zhong's comments. The Dow industrials, S&P 500 and Nasdaq all hit new peaks.

Even if the epidemic ends soon, it has already taken a toll on China's economy, as companies began laying off workers and other firms said they would need loans running into billions of dollars to stay afloat. Supply chains for car manufacturers to smartphone makers have broken down.

Total cases of the new coronavirus in China have now surpassed 44,000, according to the WHO and Chinese health officials.

Statistics from China indicate about 2% of people infected with the new virus have died, many of them elderly or with prior medical conditions. But the spread of the virus, which can lead to pneumonia, has already caused widespread disruption.

St Louis Federal Reserve President James Bullard said China's economy was expected to "slow noticeably" in the first quarter and anyone pricing assets should for now consider the "tail risk" that the outbreak could get worse.

But Bank of England Governor Mark Carney said the financial spillover from the outbreak looked containable, though it was still early to judge the economic impact.

Photo: Reuters
Photo: Reuters

VIRUS OFFICIALLY NAMED COVID-19

The WHO's Tedros was less sanguine about the virus, now officially named COVID-19 - CO for corona, VI for virus, D for disease and 19 for the year it emerged. World health organisations wanted a name that did not refer to a location or animal.

"To be honest a virus is more powerful in creating political, social and economic upheaval than any terrorist attack," he said. "It's the worst enemy you can imagine."

The impact of travel curbs, lockdowns and production suspensions is being felt increasingly on China's economy.

JPMorgan analysts downgraded forecasts for Chinese growth this quarter and Norwegian energy consultancy Rystad Energy predicted the outbreak would cut growth in global oil demand by a quarter this year.

Cisco Systems Inc, Facebook Inc, AT&T and Sprint Corp became the latest U.S. technology companies to pull out of an international telecoms conference in Barcelona because of the outbreak. The organiser of the event, the telecom industry's biggest annual gathering, will discuss whether to cancel it, an industry source said.

Inside China, more than 300 companies are seeking bank loans totalling 57.4 billion yuan ($NZ12.7 billion) to help cope with the disruption, banking sources said.

Prospective borrowers include food delivery giant Meituan Dianping, smartphone maker Xiaomi Corp and ride-hailing provider Didi Chuxing Technology Co.

Chinese firm Xinchao Media said on Monday it had laid off 500 people, or just over a tenth of its workforce, and restaurant chain Xibei said it was worried about how to pay its roughly 20,000 workers.

The Diamond Princess was placed in quarantine for two weeks upon arriving in Yokohama, south of...
The Diamond Princess was placed in quarantine for two weeks upon arriving in Yokohama, south of Tokyo, on February 3. Photo: Reuters
CRUISE SHIPS QUARANTINED

Hubei, where the flu-like virus emerged in China from a wildlife market in the provincial capital of Wuhan, remains in virtual lockdown, its stations and airports shut and roads blocked.

With public anger rising, Hubei's government dismissed the provincial health commission's Communist Party boss, Zhang Jin, and director Liu Yingzi, state media said.

Washington, whose travel restrictions have offended Beijing, authorised the voluntary departure of US government employees and family members from Chinese-ruled Hong Kong "out of an abundance of caution," the State Department said.

Dr Anne Schuchat, an official from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said she hoped the first group of Americans evacuated from Wuhan could be released from their quarantine on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, 39 more people have tested positive for the coronavirus on the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan, Health Minister Katsunobu Kato said on Wednesday.

That brings the total of confirmed infections on the ship to 174 people out of 492 tests so far, the Health Ministry said in a statement. Separately, one quarantine officer also tested positive, Kato told reporters.

The Diamond Princess was placed in quarantine for two weeks upon arriving in Yokohama, south of Tokyo, on February 3, after a man who disembarked in Hong Kong was diagnosed with the virus.

About 3700 people are aboard the ship, which usually has a crew of 1100 and a passenger capacity of 2670.

Thailand said it had barred passengers from getting off another ship, Holland America Line's MS Westerdam, though no confirmed infections have been found on board.

 

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