Coronavirus death toll reaches 1 113 as fear mounts over international spread
World / 12 February 2020, 8:55pm / Ryan Woo and John Geddie
Beijing - China reported on Wednesday its lowest number of new coronavirus cases in two weeks, bolstering a forecast by Beijing's senior medical adviser for the outbreak in the country to end by April - but fears of further international spread remained.
The 2,015 new confirmed cases took China's total to 44 653. That was the lowest daily rise since Jan. 30 and came a day after epidemiologist Zhong Nanshan said the epidemic should peak in China this month before subsiding.
His comments helped soothe public fears and markets, where global stocks surged to record highs on hopes of an end to disruption in the world's second largest economy.
But the World Health Organization (WHO) has likened the epidemic's threat to terrorism and one expert said that while it may be peaking in China, this was not the case beyond.
"It has spread to other places where it's the beginning of the outbreak," Dale Fisher, head of the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network coordinated by the WHO, said in an interview in Singapore. "In Singapore, we are at the beginning."
Singapore has 50 cases, including one found at its biggest bank, DBS, on Wednesday that caused an evacuation at head office.
Hundreds of infections have been reported in dozens of other countries and territories, but only two people have died outside mainland China: one in Hong Kong and another in the Philippines.
China's latest figures also showed that the number of deaths on the mainland rose by 97 to 1,113 by the end of Tuesday.
But doubts have been aired on social media about how reliable the data is, after the government last week amended guidelines on classification.
The biggest cluster outside China is on a cruise ship quarantined off the Japanese port of Yokohama, with about 3,700 people on board, of whom 175 have tested positive.
The ship's operator is among foreign companies taking a hit from the coronavirus outbreak, with many flights suspended and businesses disrupted.
Planemaker Boeing said airlines were facing a fall in profits as the crisis reduces passenger demand and prolongs weakness in economically sensitive air freight.
Global ship deliveries have also been dented as yards in China struggle to get fully back to work. China is one of the biggest shipbuilders and shipping sources say there have been delays to vessels meant by now to have hit the water.
There was a happy ending in sight for another cruise ship, the MS Westerdam, which Thailand, Japan, Taiwan, Guam and the Philippines had refused to let dock over fears one of its 1,455 passengers and 802 crew might have the virus.
Cambodia finally agreed to let it land, the Holland America Line said. Passengers have been whiling away time playing chess and doing puzzles. "The staff has tried to bolster spirits but you can only play so many games of trivia," American passenger Angela Jones told Reuters in a video.
China's state news agency Xinhua called the epidemic a "battle that has no gunpowder smoke" and chided some officials for "dropping the ball" in some places.
The outbreak has been named COVID-19 - CO for corona, VI for virus, D for disease and 19 for the year that it emerged. It is suspected to have originated in a market illegally trading wildlife in the Hubei provincial capital of Wuhan in December.
The city of 11 million people remains under virtual lockdown as part of China's unprecedented measures to seal off infected regions and limit transmission routes.
Moves by Washington and others to curb visitors from China have offended Beijing, which says they are an over-reaction.
Anti-Chinese sentiment has also reared on social media.
A Xinhua commentary chided some Western media for "racist reporting" on the coronavirus and ignoring "the unswerving efforts and huge sacrifice China and its people have made".
"Just as the H1N1 influenza outbreak in the United States in 2009 should not be called an 'American virus', the NCP (novel coronavirus pneumonia) is neither a 'China virus' nor 'Wuhan virus'," it said, in a reference to the 2009 swine flu pandemic.
With companies laying off workers and supply chains from the car industry to smartphones disrupted, China's economy is taking a big hit. ANZ Bank said first quarter growth may slow to between 3.2-4.0%, down from a projection of 5.0%.
The latest big event to be cancelled was Formula One's Chinese Grand Prix, originally set for Shanghai on April 19.
Organisers of a global telecoms conference in Barcelona were also mulling whether to pull the plug, two sources said, after several European companies pulled out because of the coronavirus, though local health officials said they saw no reason to cancel the event.