The death toll from China’s new coronavirus epidemic climbed past 1,100 on Wednesday but the number of new cases fell for a second straight day, as the World Health Organisation urged global unity to combat the “grave threat”.
As Beijing scrambles to contain the virus, the number of people infected on a cruise ship off Japan’s coast rose to 174 — the biggest cluster outside the Chinese mainland. Another 97 people died in China, raising the national toll to 1,113, while more than 44,600 people have now been infected by the newly named COVID-19.
“The coronavirus has had a huge impact on the civil aviation industry, which resulted in significant reductions in flight volume and could create new or spill-over safety risks,” Xiong Jie, a CAAC official, told a media briefing.
China last week amended its guidelines on prevention and control of the coronavirus, saying that only when asymptomatic cases show clinical signs should they be recorded as a confirmed case. However, it is not clear if the government data previously included asymptomatic cases. The number killed on the mainland rose by 97 to 1,113 by the end of Tuesday.
While Chinese health officials said the situation was under control, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned the epidemic posed 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 on Tuesday, adding the first vaccine was 18 months away. Asked about Zhong’s prediction, Australia’s chief medical officer, Brendan Murphy, said: “I think it’s far too premature to say that”.
“I think we’ve just got to watch the data very closely over the coming weeks before we make any predictions,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corp on Wednesday while praising China’s “Herculean efforts” to contain the virus.
Hundreds of cases have been reported in dozens of countries and territories around the world, including one fatality in Hong Kong and another in the Philippines. The biggest cluster of cases outside of China was aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship quarantined off the Japanese port of Yokohama with about 3,700 people on board. Japanese officials on Wednesday said another 39 people had tested positive for the coronavirus, bringing the total to 175.
Thailand said it was barring passengers from another cruise ship, MS Westerdam, from disembarking, the latest country to turn it away amid fears of the coronavirus despite no confirmed infections on board.
Echoing the WHO’s comparison with the fight against terrorism, China’s state news agency Xinhua said in an article published late on Tuesday the epidemic was a “battle that has no gunpowder smoke but must be won”. It warned the epidemic was a “big test of China’s governance system and capabilities” and said some officials were still “dropping the ball” in places where it was most severe.
“This is a wake-up call for us,” it said.
The government of Hubei, the province at the outbreak’s epicentre, dismissed the provincial health commission’s Communist Party boss, state media said on Tuesday, amid mounting public anger over local authorities’ handling of the crisis. China’s censors had allowed criticism of local officials but have begun cracking down on reporting of the outbreak, issuing reprimands to tech firms that gave free rein to online speech, according to Chinese journalists.
The pathogen has been officially named COVID-19 – CO for corona, VI for the virus, D for disease and 19 for the year it emerged. The virus emerged from an illegal wildlife market in Hubei’s capital Wuhan in December. The city of 11 million people remains under virtual lockdown and other Chinese cities resemble ghost towns due to travel restrictions which have paralyzed the world’s second-biggest economy. China’s aviation regulator said it hoped countries would lift virus-related travel restrictions as soon as possible.
World stocks, which had seen rounds of sell-offs over the coronarvirus’s impact, surged to record highs on hopes a peak in cases is near. The Dow industrials, S&P 500 and Nasdaq all hit new highs, and Asian shares nudged higher on Wednesday. [MKTS/GLOB]
Even if the epidemic ends soon, it has already taken a toll on China’s economy, with companies laying off workers and other firms needing loans running into billions of dollars to stay afloat. Supply chains for car manufacturers to smartphone makers have broken down. Taiwan’s Foxconn (2317.TW), a supplier to tech giant Apple (AAPL.O) hoped to resume half of its production in China by month-end, a source told Reuters.
Any stimulus measures to boost the economy should not come at the expense of structural reforms and steps to address rapid credit growth, a senior International Monetary Fund official said. Bankers in Asia are bracing for a deal drought as key meetings and roadshows are put on hold.
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