In Asia, attention continues to focus on countries outside China as new cases slow at the epicenter of the outbreak. Japan will close all schools, while South Korean infections now top 1,700. The virus also is also spreading in Europe and the Middle East, with countries including Italy, Iran and Kuwait reporting more infections.
• Global deaths surpass 2,800, with more than 82,400 cases
• China death toll at 2,744, up 29; cases climb to 78,497, up 433
• Limited virus testing in Japan masks true scale of infection
• Japan to close all schools from Monday
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Trump Says He’s Doing ‘Incredible Job’ (7:13 a.m. HK)
President Donald Trump said his administration has done an “incredible job” preventing the spread of coronavirus after California’s governor said the state is monitoring 8,400 for signs of exposure.
Limited Testing in Japan Masks Scale of Infection (6:57 a.m. HK)
Japan is becoming a center of concern, with the country’s official infection tally suspected to be the tip of the iceberg of a much wider outbreak.
“For every one who tests positive there are probably hundreds with mild symptoms,” said Masahiro Kami, chair of the Medical Governance Research Institute in Tokyo, and a practicing doctor. “Those with mild symptoms are not being tested.”
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U.S. Workers Didn’t Get Protective Gear: Report (5:05 p.m. NY)
Federal employees who helped evacuate people from the center of the coronavirus outbreak in China didn’t get protective gear or training, the Washington Post said, citing a whistleblower’s complaint.
Trump administration officials disputed the report.
“Every precaution has been taken,” said William Walters, a health official with the U.S. State Department. “I can say unequivocally that everyone involved with those evacuations was appropriately equipped and trained.”
One member of Congress called the situation deeply concerning. “Finding out that the U.S. government might have put its own personnel in harm’s way is deeply concerning to me,” said Representative Abigail Spanberger, a Democrat from Virginia.
Mask Prices and Interest Spike on Amazon (4:52 p.m. NY)
Prices for face masks spiked on Amazon.com Inc. in early February, with many items sold out, according to a firm that tracks traffic on the website.
Searches over the past 30 days for N95 masks, which are tighter fitting and filter out smaller particles than surgical masks, surged to 1.3 million on Feb. 10, up from 23,000 on Jan. 10, according to Helium 10, the monitoring company.
Daily sales of a 20-pack of popular N95 masks from 3M jumped to more than 1,000 in February, from roughly 25 in December, according to Helium. Prices for the product, which typically sells for $29.99, climbed as high as $99.
“Many third-party sellers appear to be outright price-gouging, likely due to low stock and high demand,” Lee said. “Even Amazon, which has kept pricing mostly stable across products, has had to increase prices on some products.”
Amazon’s pricing policies suggest the company monitors for gouging and can punish merchants with irregular prices, but the policies lack specifics. “Setting a price on a product or service that is significantly higher than recent prices offered on or off Amazon” is a potential violation, the company says on its policy page.
“Sellers set their own product prices in our store and we have policies to help ensure sellers are pricing products competitively,” Amazon said in an emailed statement. “We actively monitor our store and remove offers that violate our policies.”
CDC Expands Coronavirus Testing to More Patients (4:38 p.m. NY)
U.S. health authorities moved to greatly expand the number of people who will be tested for the coronavirus, adding travelers from several new countries with outbreaks as well as people with unexplained, severe respiratory illnesses.
People showing respiratory symptoms and who have been in China, Iran, Italy, Japan or South Korea within the past 14 days will be screened for the virus under the new guidelines released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC is also calling for testing of patients who have unexplained, severe lower-respiratory illnesses that require hospitalization, but no other history of potential exposure to coronavirus. The expansion comes after a patient in California, who had no known ties to an infected area, was confirmed to have the virus after a long delay to get tested.
Pence Says He’s In Charge, Not Azar (3:36 p.m. NY)
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said he’s now leading the government’s coronavirus task force instead of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.
“I’m leading the task force,” Pence said Thursday at a meeting on the virus at HHS headquarters. “We’ll continue to rely on the secretary’s role as chairman of the task force.”
Trump initially appointed Azar to lead the government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, but on Wednesday, he named Pence to the role at a news conference. The Washington Post reported that Azar was blindsided by the decision, though Azar told lawmakers that he thought Pence’s appointment was “genius.”
NYC Says Testing Kits Are Unavailable (3:15 p.m. NY)
Testing kits for the new coronavirus aren’t yet available in the U.S.’s most populous city.
Stephanie Buhle, a spokeswoman for the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said the kits from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention aren’t reliable enough to use.
“The kits that were sent to us have demonstrated performance issues and cannot be relied upon to provide an accurate result,” she said.
U.S. health officials are letting state and local health labs modify a test for the coronavirus that has been plagued by weeks of delays and problems with validation of the results.
Trump Mulls Special Powers on Mask Production: Reuters (1:58 p.m. NY)
President Trump’s administration is considering invoking special powers through the 1950 Defense Production Act to quickly boost domestic manufacturing of protective masks and outfits in the U.S., Reuters reports, citing two officials it doesn’t name.
California Monitoring 8,400 Travelers and Contacts (2:16 p.m.)
California is monitoring 8,400 people who flew into its airports from Asia and their close contacts for possible infection from the novel coronavirus, Governor Gavin Newsom said Thursday. Thousands of people around the U.S. have been asked to self-isolate or check themselves for symptoms since the U.S. put new limits on travel earlier this month.Those people are scattered across 49 local jurisdictions, he said. There have been 33 people confirmed to be infected with the virus in California.
Earlier, health officials said a woman from Northern California has the virus and hadn’t traveled to China. She also didn’t have any close contact with anyone who did and appears to be the first case of community transmission in the U.S.
Azar Says U.S.-Funded Drug, Vaccine Must Be Accessible (12:30 p.m. NY)
Any drug or vaccine developed by companies with help from the government must be financially accessible for people, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told Congress Thursday.
“I have directed my teams that if we do any joint venture with a private enterprise that we’re cofunding the research and development program that we would ensure there’s access to the fruits of that, whether vaccine or therapeutics,” Azar said at a congressional hearing. The U.S. government is collaborating with pharmaceutical and biotechnology firms to develop vaccines and drugs for the coronavirus.
Azar’s comments are a shift from remarks Wednesday, when he said, “we would want to ensure that we work to make it affordable, but we can’t control that price, because we need the private sector to invest. Price controls won’t get us there.”
Azar’s new comments came after he was criticized Wednesday evening by Senator Bernie Sanders, a contender for the Democratic presidential nomination. On Twitter, Sanders called Azar’s remarks “outrageous.”
Lagarde: ECB Response Not Required Yet (11:30 a.m. NY)
European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde said the coronavirus outbreak carefully isn’t yet at the stage that would require a monetary-policy response, the Financial Times reported on Thursday.
Lagarde said the ECB would have to determine whether the coronavirus could become a “long-lasting shock” that would affect inflation. “But we are certainly not at that point yet,” Lagarde told the FT.
Outbreak Is At Decisive Stage, WHO Says (10:10 a.m. NY)
The novel coronavirus has the potential to become a pandemic and is at a decisive stage, the head of the World Health Organization said Thursday.
“The outbreak can go in any direction based on how we handle it,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during the group’s daily briefing in Geneva.
China’s efforts show that containment can work, while clusters of infections in Iran, Italy and South Korea are cause for concern, he said. For a second day, there were fewer new cases in China than in the rest of the world.
Several countries that have reported cases previously -- including India, Russia and Vietnam -- haven’t had any new infections in two weeks, Tedros said. However, Finland and Sweden, which had gone without infections for a prolonged period, reported cases Wednesday.
Goldman Sees Zero Profit Growth for U.S. Companies (9:45 a.m. NY)
The rapid spread of the coronavirus has made equity strategists at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. slash their outlook for U.S. companies’ profit growth to zero this year, as the epidemic erodes revenue and slows global economic growth.
“Our reduced forecasts reflect the severe decline in Chinese economic activity in the first quarter, lower end-demand for U.S. exporters, supply chain disruption, a slowdown in U.S. economic activity, and elevated uncertainty,” the strategists led by David Kostin wrote in a note Thursday.
Iran VP for Women and Family Affairs Tests Positive (9:15 a.m. NY)
Iran’s vice president of women and family affairs has tested positive for the new coronavirus, state-run IRNA reported.
Masoumeh Ebetakar is the first female cabinet member in the Islamic Republic. She rose to public prominence as a spokesperson for the hostage takers during the 1979 crisis with the U.S.
IMF, World Bank Weigh Fate of Spring Meetings Amid Outbreak (8:39 a.m. NY)
The International Monetary Fund and World Bank signaled they may reconsider meetings scheduled for mid-April in Washington amid the coronavirus’s spread.
Germany Considering Stimulus to Limit Impact: HB (7:37 a.m. NY)
Germany’s government is looking at stimulus measures that would mitigate any major economic impact of the outbreak on the economy, with tax cuts and help to individual companies being examined, Handelsblatt reported, citing unidentified government sources.
Middle East Cases Rise (7:30 a.m. NY)
Iran reported 87 new cases on Thursday, bringing the total to 245 including 26 deaths. The number of patients in Kuwait almost doubled to 43, with all the cases linked to Iran. The United Arab Emirates, which has 13 cases and hasn’t given an update since Saturday, said it’s setting up a medical facility to quarantine patients.
Greece to Increase Controls at Borders as Anti-Virus Measure (7:14 a.m. NY)
As part of measures to protect public health, Greece is increasing controls at all its land and sea borders with immediate effect, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said. The country earlier said that the child of the 38-year-old woman hospitalized on Wednesday, who tested positive for coronavirus, also has been infected. Authorities closed the child’s school for 14 days as a precaution. A third person in an unrelated case, who had recently returned from Italy, also tested positive.
Italy Coronavirus Cases Rise to 528, With 14 Possible Deaths (7:09 a.m. NY)
Total cases increased from the 400 reported late Wednesday, civil protection head and emergency chief Angelo Borrelli said. Forty people have recovered. The number of possible virus-linked deaths reached 14.
UN Human Rights Commissioner Warns of Virus-Related Prejudice (7 a.m. NY)
“The coronavirus epidemic has set off a disturbing wave of prejudice against people of Chinese and east Asian ethnicity,” Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in Geneva. “I call on member states to do their most to combat this and other forms of discrimination.”
China to Extend School Closure, Premier Li Says: CCTV (6:37 a.m. NY)
Premier Li Keqiang said China will extend its closure of schools because of the epidemic, state broadcaster China Central Television reported.
Emirates to Limit Access to Its Biggest Mideast Market (6:17 p.m. HK)
Emirates, which gets 60% of its Middle East revenue from Saudi Arabia, will stop flying tourists from more than 20 countries to the kingdom to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Japan’s Abe Tells All Schools to Shut (5:39 p.m.)
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called for all elementary, middle and high schools in the country to close from Monday though to the end of the spring holidays as part of measures to combat the spread of coronavirus.
Malaysia Unveils Stimulus Package (5:20 p.m. HK)
Malaysia announced a package of measures valued at 20 billion ringgit ($4.8 billion) to boost an economy battered by the coronavirus outbreak. The government will support businesses affected by the virus, particularly in the tourism industry.
China Plans to Suspend Retail Govt Bond Sales (5:16 p.m. HK)
China plans to suspend selling government bonds to retail customers via bank branches next month, according to people with knowledge of the matter, who asked not to be identified for discussing a private matter. The halt is partly due to concerns over public gatherings during the outbreak.
AB InBev, Aston Martin Warn (5:01 p.m. HK)
Anheuser-Busch InBev NV, the world’s largest brewer, slumped after forecasting the steepest decline in quarterly profit in at least a decade due to the coronavirus. Aston Martin said revenue will continue to slide as it marks time until an anticipated boost from its new DBX SUV and braces for the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on Chinese demand.
Earlier, Microsoft became joined Apple and HP in cutting outlook, while Standard Chartered said it may take longer to hit a key target.
South Korea Reports 505 More Cases, 1 Death (4:52 p.m. HK)
South Korea’s health ministry announced an additional 171 cases of the novel coronavirus have been confirmed as of 4pm local time on top of the 334 additional cases reported earlier in the day. The country’s daily tally of 505 today exceeded that of China’s 433 from yesterday.
China Expert Sees Epidemic Contained by End of April (12:02 p.m. HK)
Zhong Nanshan, a respiratory disease expert advising the Chinese government, is confident the coronavirus outbreak will be largely contained by the end of April, Nanfang Daily reported, citing a briefing on Thursday.
Zhong, who led the research into a treatment for SARS, earlier expected the virus outbreak to peak by mid- to late February.
BOK Puts Micro Response to Virus Before Rate Move (11:34 a.m. HK)
Bank of Korea Governor Lee Ju-yeol provided loan support for coronavirus-hit companies rather than a wider-reaching interest rate move on Thursday, saying it was still too early to gauge the overall economic impact of the outbreak. The central bank left interest rates unchanged, holding off from a repetition of the rate cut response it took during a virus outbreak in 2015.
Trump Says CDC Budget Cuts Won’t Hurt Virus Response (9:45 a.m. HK)
Trump said his proposed cuts to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- the agency leading the government’s response to the coronavirus -- wouldn’t affect preparations for an outbreak.
“We can get money and we can increase staff. We know all the good people. Some of the people we’ve cut they haven’t been used in many many years,” Trump said during a news conference at the White House. “I don’t like having thousands of people around when you don’t need them. When you need them you can get them back very quickly. We can build up very very quickly. We already have done that.”
China Reports 433 New Coronavirus Cases (9:30 a.m. HK)
China reported 433 additional coronavirus cases, bringing the total case count to 78,497, according to a statement from the National Health Commission.
China’s death toll increase by 29 to 2,744, as Hubei province, where the outbreak originated, reported 26 additional fatalities. Hubei had 409 new confirmed cases. Discharged patients in mainland China rose by 2,750 to 32,495.
The number of cases in China is declining as those elsewhere are climbing. The World Health Organization said Wednesday that more coronavirus cases were reported in countries other than China for the first time since the initial patient was identified on Dec. 8.
Saudi Arabia Bans Religious Visits (8:27 a.m. HK)
Saudi Arabia temporarily halted religious visits that include stops in Mecca and Medina, which draw millions of people a year as the Islamic world’s holiest cities, to help prevent the spread of coronavirus into the country.
Tourism visa-holders from countries with reported coronavirus infections will also be denied entry, the Saudi embassy in Washington said in an emailed statement, without naming any countries. The steps are temporary and subject to continuous evaluation, according to the statement.
The government is acting to block the deadly virus as neighboring countries including Kuwait, Bahrain, Iraq and the United Arab Emirates have flagged dozens of cases. No infections had been reported by Saudi Arabian authorities as of Wednesday.
--With assistance from John Harney, Jonathan Levin, Glen Carey, Mario Parker, Jordan Fabian, Sarah McGregor, Zaid Sabah, Karen Leigh, Dandan Li, Stephen Tan, Sam Kim, Miao Han, Lulu Shen, Ross Larsen, Alisa Odenheimer, Thomas Mulier, Yasna Haghdoost, Hugo Miller, Corinne Gretler, Katerina Petroff, Shira Stein, Ryan Beene and Henry Goldman.
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