Coronavirus on G20 agenda as China reports uptick in cases

Despite suggestions of a levelling-off of infections, China reported an increase in confirmed cases of the coronavirus outbreak on Friday. (Reuters)
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Updated 22 February 2020

Coronavirus on G20 agenda as China reports uptick in cases

  • South Korea reports Beijing export slump as Japan, Singapore stagnate, whilst fears over infection causes riot in Ukraine

BEIJING: China reported an uptick in new cases of coronavirus on Friday, boosted by more than 200 people testing positive for the disease in two prisons outside of Hubei province.

As international authorities tried to stop the outbreak in China from becoming a global pandemic, finance leaders from the Group of 20 (G20) major economies meeting in Saudi Arabia over the weekend were set to discuss economic risks.

China has over 75,400 cases of the virus and 2,236 people have died of the disease — known as COVID-19 — most in Hubei and its capital Wuhan, where it emerged in a wildlife market in December.

Asian shares dipped on Friday as fears over the disease’s spread  sent funds fleeing to the sheltered shores of US assets, lifting the dollar to three-year highs.

“COVID-19 anxiety has risen to a new level amid concerns of virus outbreaks in Beijing and outside of China,” said Rodrigo Catril, a senior FX strategist at NAB.

Japan and Singapore are on the brink of recession and South Korea on Friday said its exports to China slumped in the first 20 days of February, with the outbreak upending global supply chains.

Mainland China had 889 new confirmed cases as of Feb. 20, the National Health Commission said, up from 394 cases a day earlier. The death toll rose by 118, with most in Wuhan, which remains on virtual lockdown.

Infections found in two jails, in the northern province of Shandong and the eastern province of Zhejiang, made up most of the 258 newly confirmed cases outside Hubei.

After several days of more encouraging trends in infections, China’s Communist Party newspaper warned that it would be mistake to think victory was in sight.

“If we give in to blind self-confidence, the epidemic could rebound and the virus exploit us when we are off guard,” the People’s Daily said.

The virus has emerged in some 26 countries and territories outside mainland China where there have been 11 deaths, according to a Reuters tally of official statements.

South Korea reported 52 new confirmed cases of the virus, taking the national total to 156, the majority in Daegu, a city of 2.5 million people, where dozens were infected in what authorities described as a “super-spreading event” at a church. Over 400 members of the church were showing symptoms of the disease, though tests are ongoing.

In Hong Kong, which has confirmed 69 cases and two deaths, dozens of police officers were quarantined after one tested positive following a banquet on Tuesday.

Another hot spot has been the Diamond Princess cruise ship held under quarantine in Japan since Feb. 3.

Japan allowed passengers who tested negative to leave the ship. Hundreds did so this week, with more set to disembark on Friday.

Japan reported the deaths of two elderly passengers on Thursday, the first fatalities from aboard the ship where more than 630 cases account for the biggest cluster of infection outside China.

Amid criticism of the government’s handling of onboard quarantine, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said one passenger who died had developed a fever on Feb. 5 but was not removed from the ship until Feb. 12.

Tokyo said it would cancel or postpone major indoor events for three weeks, Jiji news agency reported, as the city prepares to host the Olympic Games in July.

As G20 finance ministers prepared to meet, the IMF said it was too early to tell what impact the virus would have on growth.

“We are still hoping that the impact will be a V shaped curve” with a sharp decline in China and sharp rebound after the containment of the virus, IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva said.

“But we are not excluding that it might turn to be a different scenario like a U curve where the impact is somewhat longer.”

China’s commerce ministry said it was looking into more financial measures to support companies.

The earliest vaccine for the coronavirus would be submitted for clinical trials in April, China’s Vice Science and Technology Minister Xu Nanping said.

Fears of the contagion triggered violence in Ukraine, where residents of a town clashed with police, burned tires and hurled projectiles at a convoy of buses carrying evacuees from Hubei to a quarantine center.

US citizens evacuated from China have also faced discrimination.

Amy Deng, who underwent home quarantine with her daughter Daisy, 8, said neighbors had called police over concerns they would spread the disease.

“People were already panicked, then they made up this rumor and spread it, telling us not to even live in the community,” Deng, an acupuncturist from Santa Rosa, California, said.


Greek town bets on slow tourism to overcome virus

Updated 12 August 2020

Greek town bets on slow tourism to overcome virus

  • The pandemic is an opportunity to promote alternative tourism, fishing tourism

PREVEZA, Greece: Yannis Yovanos scans the waters of the Ambracian Gulf with his binoculars for dolphins shooting into the air before curving back down into the sea.

His early warnings prompt just a dozen tourists on the deck of Yovanos’ small boat to scramble for their smartphones, hoping to secure a snap of the aquatic mammals’ aerial acrobatics.

Officials in his home town of Preveza hope that it’s just this kind of small, family-run business that will help them overcome the coronavirus’ impact on travel — while sparing the region the environmental impact and economic distortions of the mass tourism more common on Crete or the Ionian islands.

“We don’t want to stay all day on a beach, we’re looking for a different experience,” said Dutch tourist Frederika Janssen.

“The pandemic is an opportunity to promote alternative tourism, fishing tourism,” as well as local life and culture “directly related to the natural resources that date from Antiquity,” said Constantin Koutsikopoulos, who heads the agency charged with managing the Ambracian Gulf.

Inside the gulf is a protected wetlands park, some 400 sq. km that is one of Europe’s Natura 2000 wildlife diversity regions.

One hundred and fifty dolphins, loggerhead sea turtles and 300 species of aquatic birds including the rare Dalmatian pelican live in the lagoons and reed beds of the gulf.

Nestled between green hills, the Ambracian Gulf is fed by rivers descending from the mountains of the Epirus region of northwestern Greece.

Yovanos’ hometown guards the little strait that connects the gulf with the Ionian Sea.

Dolphin watching trips like these mean “I am realizing my dream of living the life of a fisherman among our natural riches,” said the 49-year-old from behind a greying beard.

For Greece as a whole, a gamble on reopening its borders to tourists as early as June appears to have paid off for now.

New coronavirus cases have appeared only slowly since then, with fewer than 6,000 cases and just over 200 deaths nationwide from the pandemic.

Although Preveza has opted for a slower, more family-oriented approach to travel compared to better-known Greek destinations, it hasn’t renounced Mediterranean holiday clichés altogether.

With the sector suffering a big hit from the coronavirus epidemic, Preveza city officials launched a promotional campaign, securing the title of safest place for a European beach holiday from website European Best Destinations.

“Monolithi beach, the main beach of Preveza, is ... the longest one in Europe... you won’t have to struggle to get a nice spot, fix your beach umbrella and spend relaxing days in the sun,” it wrote.

And new infrastructure in the shape of a marina has helped draw sailors away from packed ports on the islands.

“Preveza is the right place compared to Corfu which is a very nice island but very crowded,” said Nick Ray, a British businessman, from the deck of his yacht that had put into the town’s port.

With its fishing and fish farming, the Ambracian Gulf is already the region’s economic motor.

Sustainable, environment-focused tourism should give the authorities even more reason to deal with the threats to the gulf such as pollution, poaching and illegal fishing.

There’s even something for ancient history buffs in the ruins of Nicopolis, founded by Caesar Augustus in honor of his naval victory nearby in 31 BC, where some Roman mosaics are still preserved.