Fourth China virus outbreak death spooks global markets

The outbreak has been traced to a seafood market in the city of Wuhan. (AFP)
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Updated 21 January 2020

Fourth China virus outbreak death spooks global markets

SHANGHAI: China’s fourth reported coronavirus death sent jitters through Asian markets as hundreds of millions of Chinese prepared for the Lunar New Year holiday.

Health authorities around the world stepped up screening and the World Health Organization (WHO) called a meeting on Wednesday to consider declaring an international health emergency, as China confirmed the virus spread through human contact.

Asian shares fell as investors likened the outbreak to the 2002/2003 spread of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), another coronavirus which broke out in China and killed nearly 800 people worldwide.

China’s yuan was down nearly half a percent and on track for its worst day in a month, while airline and travel stocks fell across the region.

“Because of Chinese New Year, millions of people will make a move to their hometown across China which is making the whole situation uncontrollable,” said Margaret Yang, an analyst at brokerage CMC Markets in Singapore, referring to the Chinese holiday period which formally begins on Friday.

“The selloff is just the beginning, we will see more in days to come.”

The number of known cases more than tripled on Monday to 223, mostly in the central city of Wuhan where the outbreak began, but also in Beijing and Shanghai, Chinese officials said. There were also two in Thailand, one in Japan and one in South Korea.

A fourth person died on Jan. 19, the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission said on Tuesday. The 89-year-old man, who had underlying health issues including heart disease, developed symptoms on Jan. 13 and was admitted to hospital five days later, it added.

Chinese authorities on Monday confirmed for the first time that the virus could spread through human contact and said 15 medical staff had been infected.

Investigations into the origin of the virus are still in progress, but the WHO said the primary source was likely animals, with Chinese officials linking the outbreak to a seafood market in Wuhan.

“The outbreak of a SARS-like coronavirus in Wuhan is developing into a major potential economic risk to the Asia-Pacific region now that there is medical evidence of human-to-human transmission,” said Rajiv Biswas, Asia Pacific chief economist for IHS Markit, in an email statement.

“Since the 2003 SARS crisis, China’s international tourism has boomed, so the risks of a global SARS-like virus epidemic spreading globally have become even more severe.”

Zhong Nanshan, head of the National Health Commission’s team of experts investigating the outbreak, said on state TV on Monday there was no danger of a repeat of the SARS epidemic so long as precautions were taken.

The outbreak was still in its early stages and China had good surveillance and quarantine systems to help control it, he added.

Australia on Tuesday said it would screen passengers on flights from Wuhan, while Singapore announced it would quarantine individuals with pneumonia and a history of travel to Wuhan within 14 days before onset of symptoms.

In Shanghai, officials on Tuesday confirmed a second case involving a 35-year-man who had visited Wuhan in early January, and said they were monitoring four other suspected cases.

The virus can cause pneumonia, with symptoms including fever and difficulty breathing — similar to other respiratory diseases posing complications for screening efforts.

So far, the WHO has not recommended trade or travel restrictions but such measures could be discussed at Wednesday’s emergency meeting.

Wuhan officials have been using infrared thermometers to screen passengers at airports, railway stations and other passenger terminals since Jan. 14. Airport authorities in the US as well as most Asian nations also are screening passengers from Wuhan.

However, Australia’s chief medical officer, Brendan Murphy, said recent evidence indicated body-temperature screening was ineffective and created a false sense of security.


NMC Health removes CEO amid investigation of UAE firm’s finances

Updated 27 February 2020

NMC Health removes CEO amid investigation of UAE firm’s finances

  • Chief Executive Prasanth Manghat was dismissed with immediate effect
  • Chief Operating Officer Michael Davis was appointed as interim CEO

NMC Health has removed Chief Executive Prasanth Manghat with immediate effect and granted its finance chief extended sick leave, as more details emerge from an investigation into the UAE health care firm’s finances.
Abu-Dhabi based NMC said after Wednesday’s market close that it had appointed Chief Operating Officer Michael Davis as interim CEO to succeed Manghat and said Chief Financial Officer Prashanth Shenoy had been placed on longer leave.
Manghat had been with NMC for about 10 years in various roles, including deputy CEO and CFO, and had seen the company through its 2012 listing on the London Stock Exchange.
The moves are the latest blow for the firm whose shares have lost about two thirds of their value since US-based short-seller Muddy Waters late last year questioned its financial statements.
NMC had said at the time that the report was “false and misleading,” but had opened its own investigation into company finances. The review is being led by Louis Freeh, who was director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the United States from 1993 to mid-2001.
NMC on Wednesday said the investigation committee had identified supply chain financing arrangements that were entered into by the company and “which are understood to have been used” by entities controlled by founder BR Shetty and former vice-chair Khaleefa Butti Omair Yousif Ahmed Al Muhairi.
Reuters was unable to reach Manghat, Shetty and Muhairi for comment outside business hours on NMC’s latest statement.
The company, which operates clinics and hospitals, specialized maternity and fertility clinics, and long-term care homes in 19 countries, said the committee was reviewing a drawdown of its facilities that had not been disclosed or approved by the board.
Its shares closed 6.6% higher before Wednesday’s statement.
NMC also said it had suspended a member of its treasury team over possible discrepancies in its bank statements and ledger entries, and said it would be unable to publish its annual results till at least the end of April.
Indian billionaire Shetty resigned as NMC’s co-chairman this month, after British regulators said they were looking into NMC following a disclosure that he had misstated the size of his stake.
Shetty had said this month that his NMC shareholdings were under a legal review looking into a large portion of his shares signed to two of NMC’s top investors in 2017, while some of his other stock had been pledged as security against loans.