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China reports fall in coronavirus cases

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There has been a decrease in the number of new deaths and new cases of the coronavirus on Saturday.

A medical staff member attends to a COVID-19 patient in a temporary hospital converted from an exhibition center in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province. The hospital, one of the dozen of its kind built in Wuhan, hosts COVID-19 patients with mild symptoms. Picture: Chinatopix Via AP

Shanghai/Beijing – China reported a
decrease in the number of new deaths and new cases of the
coronavirus on Saturday, while its central bank predicted a
limited short-term economic impact and said the country was
confident in winning the fight against the epidemic.

Mainland China had 397 new confirmed cases of coronavirus
infections on Friday, down from 889 a day earlier, the national
health authority said.

But the number of infections continued to rise elsewhere,
with outbreaks worsening in South Korea, Italy and Iran and
Lebanon. The World Health Organisation warned that the window of
opportunity to contain the international spread was closing.

Concerns about the virus weighed on U.S. stocks and the
Nasdaq had its worst daily percentage decline in about three
weeks on Friday, driven by an earlier spike in new cases and
data showing stalling U.S. business activity in
February.

South Korea reported another spike in infections with 142
confirmed cases on Saturday, taking its tally to 346, about half
related to those who attended a church service in Daegu. Cases
in one hospital jumped from 16 to 108 overnight.

An official in protective suits measure the temperature of the foreign passengers disembarked from the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship before boarding to buses at a port in Yokohama. Picture: Eugene Hoshiko/AP

The virus has spread to some 26 countries and territories
outside mainland China, killing 11 people, according to a
Reuters tally.

“We still have a chance to contain it,” Tedros Adhanom
Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, said on Friday.

“If we don’t, if we squander the opportunity, then there
will be a serious problem on our hands.”

An outbreak in northern Italy worsened, with its first
death, an elderly man, among 17 confirmed cases including its
first known instance of local transmission.

The total number of confirmed cases in mainland China rose
to 76,288, with the death toll at 2,345 as of the end of Friday.
The central province of Hubei, the epicentre of the outbreak,
reported 106 new deaths of which 90 were in its capital Wuhan.

Chinese scientists on Friday reported that a woman from
Wuhan had travelled 400 miles (675km) and infected five
relatives without ever showing signs of infection, offering new
evidence of asymptomatical spreading.

A worker wearing protective gears sprays disinfectant as a precaution against the coronavirus at a subway station in Seoul, South Korea. Picture: Ahn Young-joon/AP

Senior Chinese central bank officials sought to ease global
investors’ worries about the potential damage to the world’s
second-largest economy from the outbreak, saying interest rates
would be guided lower and that the country’s financial system
and currency were resilient.

Chen Yulu, a deputy governor of the People’s Bank of China,
said policymakers had plenty of tools to support the economy,
and that they were fully confident of winning the war against
the epidemic, according to China Central Television (CCTV).

“We believe that after this epidemic is over, pent-up demand
for consumption and investment will be fully released, and
China’s economy will rebound swiftly,” Chen said.

China has recently cut several of its key lending rates,
including the benchmark lending rate on Thursday, and has urged
banks to extend cheap loans to the worst-hit companies which are
struggling to resume production and are running out of cash.

Some analysts believe China’s economy could contract in the
first quarter from the previous three months due to the combined
supply and demand shocks caused by the fast-spreading epidemic
and strict government containment measures. On an annual basis,
some warn that growth could fall by as much as half from 6% in
the fourth quarter.

Most expect a rebound in economic activity in the spring,
providing the outbreak can be contained soon and factories hit
by staff and raw material shortages can return to normal
production in the next few weeks.

However, transportation restrictions remain in place in
large parts of the country. While more firms are reopening, the
limited data available so far suggests manufacturing is still
running at levels far below those in the same period last year,
and disruptions are starting to spillover into global supply
chains as far away as the United States.

Finance leaders from the Group of 20 major economies
were set to discuss risks to the world economy in Saudi Arabia
this weekend. The International Monetary Fund said it was too
soon to assess what the virus impact would be on global
growth.

A bus transports British passengers after they left the coronavirus-hit cruise ship Diamond Princess at the Daikoku Pier Cruise Terminal in Yokohama, Japan. Picture: Reuters

Another centre of infection has been the Diamond Princess
cruise ship quarantined in Japan since February 3, with more than
630 cases accounting for the biggest cluster outside China.

Australia said on Saturday that four more of its nationals
evacuated from the ship tested positive for coronavirus, in
addition to two individuals previously identified.

A second plane with 82 Hong Kong residents who were on the
ship landed in the Asian financial hub, where they will face a
further 14 days of quarantine, and some 35 British passengers
were due to arrive back home on Saturday, where they would be
quarantined.

U.S. authorities said that of 329 Americans evacuated from
the ship, 18 tested positive.

Ukraine’s health minister joined evacuees from China for two
weeks’ quarantine in a sanatorium on Friday in a show of
solidarity after fears over the possible spread of coronavirus
led to clashes.

Reuters