Global coronavirus cases climb; South Korea infections top 1,000

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The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Americans to prepare for a potential coronavirus outbreak at home, while mounting cases across the Middle East, Europe and Asia sparked concern the outbreak is widening into a pandemic.

South Korea has emerged as a hot spot for the virus, with infections surging to more than 1,000 from only 51 a week ago. A US soldier in South Korea became the first American military case reported. A Brazilian patient tested preliminary positive for the coronavirus, in what would be the first infection in Latin America.

In Japan, companies, including Shiseido Co. are asking employees to work from home as cases pop up in office buildings. The heightened fears roiled financial markets again, with Asian stocks falling after a rout on Wall Street.

Thailand’s virus fight

Thailand said it will step up efforts to contain the novel coronavirus after confirming three more cases, taking the country’s total to 40.

Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said in a briefing that COVID-19 has been classified as a dangerous communicable disease. Under the change, anybody with suspect symptoms after visiting a high-risk country must report to the authorities within three hours. Visitors who lie about symptoms or travel history could be deported.

There’s no widespread community transmission of the disease in Thailand, yet, Permanent Health Secretary Sukhum Kanchanapimai said at the briefing.

Asia supply chains

More than one-quarter of businesses grappling with coronavirus in Asia say they’re setting up or using supply chains that reduce their reliance on China, according to a survey by the American Chamber of Commerce in Singapore.

Some 28 percent said they were making such adjustments, and 14 percent said they were shifting some or all of their supply chains outside of China, according to a poll of members conducted February 12 to 18 and released on Wednesday with Sandpiper Communications. About two-thirds of AmCham members are US-based companies.

The poll offers a glimpse into firms’ evolving strategies as confirmed cases of the virus accelerate in countries within and outside Asia, slamming global financial markets and forcing policy-makers to unveil stimulus packages and monetary easing.

Japan big events

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called for major sporting and cultural events to be called off, postponed or scaled down over the next two weeks, saying the move was crucial in preventing the domestic spread of the new coronavirus.

Abe introduced a new government plan on Tuesday to control the disease that called on employers to encourage telework and stagger working hours in an attempt to slow the spread of the disease.

One major concern facing Abe has been whether the virus will derail Tokyo’s plans to host the Summer Olympics later this year. Japanese and Olympic officials have said there is no change to holding the Games as planned, but there is a lot at stake for Abe. Tokyo has been preparing for the Games for about seven years, spending more than $26 billion to ready the city, according to some estimates.

HK $15-B stimulus package

Hong Kong Financial Secretary Paul Chan announced a HK$120 billion ($15.4 billion) relief package, in an effort to shore up economic confidence in a city battered by political unrest and the coronavirus.

The main feature of Chan’s annual budget announced on Wednesday is a payment of HK$10,000 to each permanent resident of the city 18 or older. He unveiled an official forecast for economic growth this year of between -1.5 percent and 0.5 percent, and confirmed a contraction of 1.2 percent in 2019.

The administration of Chief Executive Carrie Lam is seeking to put a floor under the collapsing economy, rolling out a bolder budget than has been seen in recent years. Months of political unrest pushed Hong Kong last year into its first annual recession in a decade, with economists forecasting a second annual contraction in 2020 as disruptions from the coronavirus outbreak further depress the city’s output.

Cathay unpaid leave

More than 25,000 Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. staff have agreed to take unpaid leave, according to an internal memo from Chief Executive Officer Augustus Tang, in which he thanked employees for their support as the airline contends with the impact of the coronavirus.

The CEO, who took over last year after his predecessor Rupert Hogg was ousted amid the fallout from anti-government protests in Hong Kong, said Cathay’s business challenges “remain acute.” The airline has about 33,000 employees worldwide, with nearly 20,000 in Hong Kong.

Cathay has sharply cut its flight capacity because of the impact the virus has had on travel, presenting a fresh challenge after the protests in Hong Kong weighed on the company’s performance in the second half of 2019.

US soldier infected

A US soldier stationed at a military base near Daegu, South Korea, has tested positive for the coronavirus, the first time a US service member has been infected, according to a statement from the United States Forces Command.

The soldier is a 23-year-old male based in Camp Carroll, located about 20 kilometers from Daegu, which has emerged as a hot spot for the outbreak in South Korea. The soldier has a history of visiting Camp Walker, located inside Daegu, the statement said.

Brazilian tests positive

A 61-year-old man in Sao Paulo tested positive for the new coronavirus, in what can be the first case of the disease in Latin America.

A counter-test is being made by Brazil’s reference hospital, Instituto Adolfo Lutz, the Health Ministry said in a statement published on its web site and in its Twitter account.

The man traveled to Northern Italy for work February 9 through February 21, and has mild symptoms that match the ones of a suspected COVID-19 infection, the statement said. Bloomberg News

Image credits: Kim Hyun-tae/Yonhap via AP



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