China virus toll jumps past 500 as more cases found on cruise ship off Japan

The death toll from a new coronavirus in mainland China jumped by 73 to 563 on Thursday, its third consecutive record daily rise, as experts intensified efforts to find a vaccine for a disease that has shut down Chinese cities and forced thousands more into quarantine around the world.

Hubei province, the epicenter of the epidemic, reported 70 new deaths on Wednesday and 2,987 new confirmed cases – more than 80% of the total reported by Chinese authorities. The other fatalities were in Tianjin city, the northeastern province of Heilongjiang and Guizhou province in the southwest.

Hubei province in central China has been in virtual lockdown for nearly two weeks, with its train stations and airports shut and its roads sealed off. The flu-like virus was first identified in Hubei’s provincial capital of Wuhan and is believed to have originated at a seafood market in the city.

There have been two deaths outside mainland China – in the Philippines and Hong Kong – both following visits to Wuhan.

Hundreds of foreigners have been evacuated from Wuhan and placed in quarantine centers around the world, and thousands of passengers and crew were in lockdown on two cruise ships in Asian waters.

Ten more people on a cruise liner in the Japanese port of Yokohama, south of Tokyo, tested positive for the coronavirus, NHK television reported citing the Japanese health ministry, bringing the total number of cases on board to 20.

About 3,700 people are facing at least two weeks quarantined on the ship after an 80-year-old Hong Kong man who traveled on it late last month tested positive.

One passenger using the handle @daxa_tw tweeted on Thursday that crew members had handed out medication refill request forms for those in need of medicines.

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In Hong Kong, 3,600 passengers and crew were confined to their ship docked in the city for tests after three people on board had tested positive earlier.

More than two dozen airlines have suspended or restricted flights to China and several countries, including the United States, have banned entry to anyone who has been in China over the previous two weeks.

Hong Kong said all visitors from mainland China would be quarantined for two weeks, while Taiwan banned the entry of mainland residents from Thursday.

Hundreds of experts will gather in Geneva next week, on Feb. 11-12, in an attempt to find a way to fight back against the outbreak by speeding research into drugs and vaccines, the World Health Organization (WHO) said. A multinational WHO-led team would go to China “very soon”, it added.

Asked about reports of “drug breakthroughs”, WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said: “There are no known effective therapeutics against this 2019-nCoV (virus).”

While most people infected with the virus recover quickly with only mild symptoms, the virus can lead to pneumonia and other severe respiratory illnesses. It is still too early to know what its death rate will be, since there are likely to be many cases of milder disease going undetected.

China’s National Health Commission said another 3,694 coronavirus cases were reported throughout the country on Feb. 5, bringing the total to 28,018.

More than 200 cases have been reported in 27 other countries and regions outside mainland China, according to a Reuters tally based on official statements.

ECONOMIC IMPACT

Many analysts cut their growth outlook for the Chinese economy, the world’s third largest, as the epidemic spread but global markets have stabilized in recent days on central bank stimulus measures and hopes for a vaccine.

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The dollar gained on Wednesday and a gauge of global equity markets surged for a third day. European stocks jumped sharply, U.S. Treasury yields rose and U.S. stock index futures surged.

Nearly $700 billion was wiped off mainland Chinese stocks on Monday with many factories shut, cities cut off and travel links constricted, fuelling worries about global supply chains.

Fourteen provinces and cities, including several main industrial centers, which have announced extended business closures account for around 70% of China’s gross domestic product and 80% of its exports, Capital Economics said in a note to clients this week.

Global carmakers have already extended factory closures in China in line with government guidelines. These include Hyundai, Tesla, Ford, PSA Peugeot Citroen, Nissan and Honda Motor

Planemaker Airbus has prolonged a planned closure of its final assembly plant in Tianjin, China, it said.

Taiwan’s Foxconn, which makes phones for global vendors including Apple, aims to gradually restart factories in China next week but could take at least a week or two more to resume full production, a person with direct knowledge of the matter said.

German sportswear company Adidas said it was temporarily shutting a “considerable” number of its stores in China.

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said the epidemic would delay a surge in U.S. exports to China expected from a Phase 1 trade deal set to take effect this month.

European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde said the virus was adding to economic doubts.

“While the threat of a trade war between the United States and China appears to have receded, the coronavirus adds a new layer of uncertainty,” she said in Paris.