China virus toll nears 500, airlines cut Hong Kong flights, cases found on cruise ship

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A passenger checks herself with a digital infrared forehead thermometer measurement device at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang on February 4, 2020. (AFP)
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Workers set up beds at an exhibition centre that was converted into a hospital in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province on February 4, 2020. (AFP)
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This handout from the Royal Thai Navy taken and released on Feburary 4, 2020 shows navy officials preparing for the arrival of a plane carrying Thai nationals who had been evacuated from Wuhan, the epicentre of the novel coronavirus outbreak, at U-Tapao Airport in Rayong. (AFP)
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This photo taken on February 3, 2020 shows a doctor being disinfected by his colleague at a quarantine zone in Wuhan, the epicentre of the new coronavirus outbreak, in China's central Hubei province. (AFP)
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Updated 05 February 2020

China virus toll nears 500, airlines cut Hong Kong flights, cases found on cruise ship

  • The WHO's statement came as Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand all reported new infections not imported from China

BEIJING: The death toll from a coronavirus outbreak in China passed 490 on Wednesday, as two US airlines suspended flights to Hong Kong following the first fatality there and 10 cases were confirmed on a quarantined Japanese cruise ship.
China’s National Health Commission said another 65 deaths had been recorded on Tuesday, bringing the toll on the mainland to 490, mostly in and around the locked-down central city of Wuhan where the virus emerged late last year.
There have been two deaths outside mainland China. A 39-year-old man in Hong Kong with an underlying illness who had visited Wuhan city, the epicenter of the virus, died on Tuesday. A man died in the Philippines last week after visiting Wuhan, the first virus-related overseas fatality.
Across mainland China, there were 3,887 new confirmed infections, bringing the total accumulated number to 24,324.
Ten people on a cruise liner under quarantine at the Japanese port of Yokohama tested positive for coronavirus, Japan health minister said, a figure that could rise as medical screening of thousands of patients and crew continued.
The 10 confirmed cases were among 31 results from 273 people tested so far. There are around 3,700 passengers and crew aboard the Carnival Corp. ship.
Another 176 cases have been reported in 24 other countries and regions, according to the World Health Organization.

Two Malaysians who were flown back from the Chinese city of Wuhan have tested positive for the coronavirus, the Southeast Asian nation’s health ministry said on Wednesday, raising the tally of confirmed cases in the country to 12.
Malaysia sent a flight to Wuhan on Monday to bring back over 100 of its citizens who were stranded there since the city was locked down in an effort to contain the spread of the virus.
The two cases, a 45-year-old woman and her 9-year-old son, did not show any symptoms when subjected to health screening on arrival in Kuala Lumpur but lab tests confirmed on Wednesday they had contracted the virus, Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad said at the ministry’s daily news conference on the coronavirus.
"Both are receiving treatment in an isolation ward... and they are in stable condition," Dzulkefly said.

ECONOMIC IMPACT SPREADS
As the economic impacts of the virus spread, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said the epidemic would delay a surge in US exports to China expected from the Phase 1 trade deal set to take effect later this month, the first time a Trump administration official has said the outbreak would hamper the deal.
“It is true the trade deal, the Phase 1 trade deal, the export boom from that trade deal will take longer because of the Chinese virus,” Kudlow said, adding he did not believe the virus would have a catastrophic effect on business supply chains.
Global markets stabilized on Tuesday after days of selling triggered by fears about China’s econmic growth, with many factories closed, cities cut off and travel in and out of China severely restricted.
The financial and health impacts of the epidemic were increasingly being felt in Hong Kong, with American Airlines Group and United Airlines suspending flights to and from the Asian financial hub after this week.
Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd, which relies heavily on passengers who change flights in the financial center, said it plans to cut around 30% of its global capacity over the next two months, including around 90% of its flights to mainland China as it grapples with the coronavirus.

The airline has asked its 27,000 employees to take three weeks of unpaid leave, saying preserving cash was key for the carrier and that conditions were as grave as during the 2009 financial crisis.
Thousands of medical workers in Hong Kong, a semi-autonomous region of China, held a second day of strikes on Tuesday to press for complete closure of borders with the mainland after three checkpoints were left open.
“We’re not threatening the government, we just want to prevent the outbreak,” said Cheng, 26, a nurse on strike.
Hong Kong has confirmed about 17 cases. It was badly hit by Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), a coronavirus that emerged from China in 2002, killed almost 800 people worldwide and cost the global economy an estimated $33 billion.
Neighbouring Macau, also a special administrative region of China lying across the Pearl River estuary from Hong Kong, ordered its casinos to suspend operations on Tuesday, effectively closing off the lifeblood of its economy in a drastic measure to contain the epidemic.
Asian stocks steadied on Wednesday on hopes of additional Chinese stimulus to lessen the economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak. MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was up 0.3%. Australian shares were up 0.58%, while Japan’s Nikkei stock index rose 1.19%.

CHINA EVACUATIONS CONTINUE
Beijing has criticized US travel restrictions, barring foreign nationals who have visisted China, as an overreaction and has called on Washington to do more to help China.
US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex said he hoped China would accept an offer from the United States and the WHO to send epidemiological experts to China.
“We have been requesting this since January 6. The World Health Organization sent names over today. We’re hoping the Chinese will act quickly on that,” Azar told Fox Business Network in an interview.
“This is a novel strain. That’s why we’ve got to get on the ground with the world’s best experts and run the studies to get to the bottom of what is the incubation period. We’ve got to confirm what is the risk of asymptomatic transmission,” he said.

The WHO has declared the flu-like virus a global emergency and experts say much is still unknown, including its mortality rate and transmission routes.
Chinese data suggests the new virus, while much more contagious, is significantly less lethal although such numbers can evolve rapidly.
Several countries including Australia and New Zealand continued to evacuate citizens from Wuhan city. The United States said it may stage additional evacuation flights for private US citizens in China’s virus-hit Wuhan on Thursday.
Wuhan authorities are converting an additional eight buildings, including gymnasiums, exhibition centers and sports centers, into hospitals, the official Xinhua news agency reported on Wednesday.
The latest announcement adds to plans revealed earlier this week to convert three other venues in the city into hospitals. Once all 11 buildings are converted, a process that is expected to be completed later on Wednesday, they will be able to accommodate 10,000 patients.
A specially constructed hospital in Wuhan, designed with 1,000 beds, opened to patients on Monday, while the building of a second hospital, with 1,600 beds, is also scheduled to be completed on Wednesday

For a graphic comparing coronavirus outbreaks, see https://tmsnrt.rs/2GK6YVK.


Seoul endorses aid to North Korea for coronavirus

A nurse takes the temperature of a woman at an entrance of a Pyongyang hospital. (AFP)
Updated 58 min 31 sec ago

Seoul endorses aid to North Korea for coronavirus

  • According to the Unification Ministry, South Korea is committed to spending about $5.7 million on aid to North Korea this year

SEOUL: South Korea has approved assistance to provide anti-viral supplies to its northern neighbor for combating COVID-19, although the regime claims that there is no single confirmed case of the virus overwhelming societies around the globe.
The approval was granted on Tuesday to a nonprofit organization, which will send hand sanitizers worth about $81,000 to the North, the Unification Ministry on North Korean affairs confirmed on Thursday.
“The civic organization met the requirements for North Korean aid,” a ministry spokesman told reporters, declining to share details on the identity of the private organization. “The supplies were funded by the group.”
This marked the first time this year that the South Korean government has allowed a civilian aid group to provide assistance to the poverty-stricken North, while inter-Korean relations reached a low-ebb with the prolonged stalemate over Pyongyang’s nuclear disarmament effort.
International non-governmental organizations, including Doctors Without Borders, reportedly donated medical equipment to the communist regime, using a checkpoint in the border city of Dandong in China.
In March, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said that $840,000 was needed to help North Korea during the coronavirus pandemic. UNICEF said that it donated glasses, masks, gloves and thermometers that could be used in North Korea to fight the spread of the virus.
The latest approval of the disinfectant shipment could set the stage for expanding assistance to the North at government level, said Cho Han-bum, a senior researcher at the state-funded Korea Institute for National Unification.
“I see the possibility that the level of assistance to the North would be expanded further,” the researcher said. “As Pyongyang appears to do its utmost to combat the spread of COVID-19, both Koreas would possibly be able to work together on health issues.”

HIGHLIGHT

The approval was granted to a nonprofit organization, which will send hand sanitizers worth about $81,000 to the North.

According to the Unification Ministry, South Korea is committed to spending about $5.7 million on aid to North Korea this year. The funds represent more than 60 percent of total global funding for aid to North Korea this year, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) website.
On March 1, President Moon Jae-in proposed cross-border cooperation in medicine and public health during his address marking the country’s Independence Day from Japanese colonial rule. In return, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un responded on March 4 by stating that he “wholeheartedly wished that the health of our brothers and sisters in the South are protected.”
But the North has conducted tests of short-range rockets and missiles three times since then, pouring cold water on relations with the South.
Experts have warned North Korea is vulnerable to the pandemic due to its weak health care system amid speculation that Pyongyang has covered up an outbreak.
Meanwhile, South Korea’s coronavirus cases topped 10,000 on Friday amid a slowdown in new infections. The country reported 86 new cases on Thursday, bringing the total number of infections to 10,062 and marked the 22nd consecutive day that new infections have hovered around 100 or fewer additional cases, according to health authorities.
The death toll rose by five to 174, with more than half of fatalities being patients aged 80 or over.