China, U.S. to set aside differences in G20 coronavirus summit: SCMP

BEIJING (Reuters) – China and the United States are expected to call a timeout on their coronavirus blame game and focus on the challenges of the pandemic when leaders of the G20 nations hold talks via video conference on Thursday, the South China Morning Post said.

The virus has spread around the globe, infecting more than 470,000 people and killing more than 20,000, since it emerged in central China late last year.

The leaders are expected to agree that the outbreak is a threat to humanity and will set up a mechanism to share information and experiences in fighting the disease, the paper said, citing a draft statement to be discussed at the summit.

“As the world confronts the COVID-19 pandemic and the challenges to healthcare systems and the global economy, we convene this extraordinary G20 summit to unite efforts towards a global response,” Saudi Arabia’s King Salman said on Twitter.

The kingdom, which holds the G20 presidency this year, will host its leaders by video conference on Thursday amid criticism that the group has been slow to respond to the crisis.

The focus will be on China and the United States, which have been engaged in a war of words over the outbreak, against the backdrop of a bitter trade dispute.

In preparatory talks for the G20 summit, the two countries agreed to set aside their differences, the newspaper said, citing a diplomatic source familiar with the talks.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s reference to the “Chinese virus” – a term President Donald Trump has also used repeatedly – has greatly angered Beijing.

He has also accused China of delaying the sharing of information about the virus and creating risks to people worldwide.

Some U.S. politicians were using the pandemic as a weapon to smear China, Beijing has said, adding that its actions, including quarantining millions of people, had earned the world “precious time” to prepare.

It has also disputed the widely held belief that the virus originated in China, and comments by a foreign ministry spokesman that it could have been brought to the country by the U.S. military have further heightened tension between the two.

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Coronavirus kills seventh person in Italy, pandemic fears grip Wall Street

BEIJING/SEOUL (Reuters) – The coronavirus death toll climbed to seven in Italy on Monday and several Middle East countries were dealing with their first infections, sending markets into a tailspin over fears of a global pandemic even as China eased curbs with no new cases reported in Beijing and other cities.

The virus had put Chinese cities into lockdown in recent weeks, disrupted air traffic and blocked global supply chains for everything from cars to smartphones.

But China’s actions, especially in Wuhan – the epicenter of the outbreak – probably prevented hundreds of thousands of cases, said the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) delegation in China, Bruce Aylward, urging the rest of the world to learn the lesson of acting fast.

“They’re at a point now where the number of cured people coming out of hospitals each day is much more than the sick going in,” he said.

The surge of cases outside mainland China triggered sharp falls in global markets as investors fled to safe havens. European equities markets suffered their biggest slump since mid-2016, gold soared to a seven-year high and oil tumbled 4%. [MKTS/GLOB][.N]

The Dow Jones Industrials dove to a two-month low while the S&P 500 and Nasdaq were at their lowest in three weeks on Monday, all off by about 3%.

Wall Street’s fear gauge, CBOE Volatility Index , jumped to a six-month high.[.N] Early, last week, Wall Street’s main indexes notched record highs, partly on optimism that the global economy would be able to snap back from the coronavirus.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the word “pandemic” did not fit the facts.

“We must focus on containment while preparing for a potential pandemic,” he told reporters in Geneva, adding that the world was not witnessing an uncontained spread or large-scale deaths.

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The epidemic in China peaked between Jan. 23 and Feb. 2 and has been declining since, the WHO said.

Dr. Mike Ryan, head of WHO’s emergencies program, told reporters it was still possible to contain the virus and that it might appear each year like the flu.

“The virus may settle down into an endemic pattern of transmission, into a seasonal pattern of transmission, or it could accelerate into a full-blown global pandemic,” he said in Geneva on Monday. “And at this point, it is not possible to say which of those realities is going to happen.”

The White House is considering asking lawmakers for emergency funding to ramp up its response to the fast-spreading virus, a White House spokesman and an administration source said on Monday. Politico and the Washington Post had reported the Trump administration may request $1 billion.

ITALY AT RISK

Europe’s biggest outbreak is in Italy, with some 220 infections – compared with just three before Friday – and a seventh death.

In northern Italy, authorities sealed off the worst-affected towns and banned public gatherings across a wide area, halting the carnival in Venice, where there were two cases.

Shops are shut, bars are closed and people speak to each other from a safe distance.

Japan had 773 cases as of late Sunday, mostly on the cruise ship quarantined near Tokyo.

In South Korea, drone footage here showed what appeared to be hundreds of people queuing up outside a Daegu supermarket to buy face masks.

(Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus here)

MEASURE OF RELIEF

Liang Wannian of China’s National Health Commission said while the rapid rise had been halted, the situation was still grim. He said over 3,000 medical staff had become infected, most in Hubei province surrounding Wuhan, probably due to the lack of protective gear and fatigue.

Excluding Hubei, mainland China reported 11 new cases, the lowest since the national health authority started publishing nationwide daily figures on Jan. 20.

The coronavirus has infected nearly 77,000 people and killed more than 2,500 in China, most of them in Hubei.

Overall, China reported 409 new cases on the mainland, down from 648 a day earlier, taking the total number of infections to 77,150 cases as of Feb. 23. The death toll rose by 150 to 2,592.

There was a measure of relief for the world’s second-largest economy as more than 20 province-level jurisdictions, including Beijing and Shanghai, reported zero new infections.

Outside mainland China, the outbreak has spread to some 29 countries and territories, with a death toll of about two dozen, according to a Reuters tally.

South Korea reported 231 new cases, taking its total to 833. Many are in its fourth-largest city, Daegu, which became more isolated with Asiana Airlines (020560.KS) and Korean Air (003490.KS) suspending flights there until next month.

Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Afghanistan and Iraq reported their first new coronavirus cases, all in people who had been to Iran, where the toll was 12 dead and 61 infected. Most of the infections were in the Shi’ite Muslim holy city of Qom.

A WHO team is due in Iran on Tuesday.

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Coronavirus spreads outside China, but 'world in Wuhan's debt' for its actions: WHO

BEIJING/SEOUL (Reuters) – Italy, South Korea and Iran reported sharp rises in coronavirus cases on Monday, but China eased curbs as the rate of infection there slowed and a visiting World Health Organization team said a turning point had been reached in the epicenter, Wuhan.

The virus has put Chinese cities into lockdown in recent weeks, disrupted air traffic to the workshop of the world and blocked global supply chains for everything from cars and car parts to smartphones.

But China’s actions, especially in Wuhan, had probably prevented hundreds of thousands of cases, said the head of the WHO delegation in China, Bruce Aylward, urging the rest of the world to learn the lesson of acting fast.

“The world is in your debt,” Aylward, speaking in Beijing, told the people of Wuhan. “The people of that city have gone through an extraordinary period and they’re still going through it.”

The surge of cases outside mainland China triggered sharp falls in global share markets as investors fled to safe havens. European share markets suffered their biggest slump since mid-2016, gold soared to a seven-year high, oil tumbled nearly 5% and the Korean won KRW= fell to its lowest level since August.[MKTS/GLOB][.N]

Wall Street dived around 3% after it opened .N as the ugly sell-off spread. Italian shares tumbled nearly 5%.

But U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin cautioned against jumping to conclusions about the global economy or supply chains, saying it was simply too soon to know.

The WHO’s Aylward said multiple data sources all suggested that the rate of infection in Wuhan was falling: “They’re at a point now where the number of cured people coming out of hospitals each day is much more than the sick going in.”

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that using the word “pandemic” did not fit the facts. “We must focus on containment while preparing for a potential pandemic,” he told reporters in Geneva, adding that the world was not witnessing an uncontained spread or large-scale deaths.

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(Live blog: Online site for coronavirus news – here)

MEASURE OF RELIEF

Liang Wannian of China’s National Health Commission said only that the rapid rise had been halted and the situation was still grim. He said over 3,000 medical staff had become infected, most in Hubei province surrounding Wuhan, probably due to the lack of protective gear and to fatigue.

Excluding Hubei, mainland China reported 11 new cases, the lowest since the national health authority started publishing nationwide daily figures on Jan. 20.

The coronavirus has infected nearly 77,000 people and killed more than 2,500 in China, most of them in Hubei.

Overall, China reported 409 new cases on the mainland, down from 648 a day earlier, taking the total number of infections to 77,150 cases as of Feb. 23. The death toll rose by 150 to 2,592.

But there was a measure of relief for the world’s second-largest economy as more than 20 province-level jurisdictions, including Beijing and Shanghai, reported zero new infections.

Outside mainland China, the outbreak has spread to some 29 countries and territories, with a death toll of about two dozen, according to a Reuters tally.

South Korea reported 231 new cases, taking its total to 833. Many are in its fourth-largest city, Daegu, which became more isolated with Asiana Airlines and Korean Air suspending flights there until next month.

Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Afghanistan and Iraq recorded their first new coronavirus cases, all people who had been in Iran, where the toll was 12 dead and 61 infected. Most of the infections were in the Shi’ite Muslim holy city of Qom.

A WHO team is due in Iran on Tuesday. (Reuters graphics on the new coronavirus – here)

ITALY AT RISK

Europe’s biggest outbreak is in Italy, with some 150 infections – compared with just three before Friday – and a sixth death.

In northern Italy, authorities sealed off the worst-affected towns and banned public gatherings across a wide area, halting the carnival in Venice, where there were two cases.

The outbreak originated in Codogno, a small town southeast of Milan where Lombardy’s first infected patient, a 38-year-old man now in stable condition, was treated.

Austria briefly suspended train services through the Alps from Italy after two travelers coming from Italy showed symptoms of fever. Both tested negative.

(Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus tmsnrt.rs/3aIRuz7)

Chinese President Xi Jinping urged businesses to get back to work, though he said the epidemic was still “severe and complex, and prevention and control work is in the most difficult and critical stage”.

Mnuchin told Reuters in the Saudi city of Riyadh that he did not expect the epidemic to have a material impact on the Phase 1 U.S.-China trade deal.

The Washington Post, citing three unnamed people briefed on the plan, said the White House could request close to $1 billion from U.S. lawmakers to help boost the nation’s response to the coronavirus. White House spokesman Hogan Gidley told reporters: “I’m not going to get into an announcement on what we’re going to take to Congress but the fact is that we have aggressively worked to combat the spread of this virus…”

Japan had 773 cases as of late Sunday, mostly on a cruise ship quarantined near Tokyo.

In South Korea, drone footage here showed what appeared to be hundreds of people queuing in a neat line outside a Daegu supermarket to buy face masks.

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Coronavirus cases spread outside China, fall inside, winning WHO's praises

BEIJING/SEOUL (Reuters) – Italy, South Korea and Iran reported sharp rises in coronavirus infections on Monday, but China relaxed curbs on movement as the rate of new infections there eased and a visiting World Health Organization team reported steep declines in visits to clinics.

The virus has put Chinese cities into lockdown in recent weeks, disrupted air traffic to the workshop of the world and blocked global supply chains for everything from cars and car parts to smartphones.

But China’s actions, especially in the city of Wuhan, the center of the outbreak, had probably prevented hundreds of thousands of cases, the head of the WHO delegation in China, Bruce Aylward, said, urging the rest of the world to learn the lesson of acting fast.

“The world is in your debt,” Aylward said in Beijing, addressing the people of Wuhan. “The people of that city have gone through an extraordinary period and they’re still going through it.”

The surge of cases outside mainland China triggered sharp falls in global share markets and Wall Street stock futures as investors fled to safe havens. European share markets suffered their biggest slump since mid-2016, gold soared to a seven-year high, oil tumbled nearly 4% and the Korean won KRW= fell to its lowest level since August.[MKTS/GLOB]

But U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin cautioned against jumping to conclusions about the impact on the global economy or supply chains, saying it was simply too soon to know. Live blog: Online site for coronavirus news – here Graphic: Tracking the novel coronavirus – here Reuters graphics on the new coronavirus – here

The WHO’s Aylward said multiple data sources backed the trend of declining cases but an official with China’s National Health Commission, Liang Wannian, said more than 3,000 medical staff had become infected, most of them in Hubei, and likely due to the lack of protective gear and fatigue.

Excluding Hubei, mainland China reported 11 new cases, the lowest since the national health authority started publishing nationwide daily figures on Jan. 20.

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The coronavirus has infected nearly 77,000 people and killed more than 2,500 in China, most in Hubei.

Overall, China reported 409 new cases on the mainland, down from 648 a day earlier, taking the total number of infections to 77,150 cases as of Feb. 23. The death toll rose by 150 to 2,592.

But there was a measure of relief for the world’s second-largest economy as more than 20 province-level jurisdictions, including Beijing and Shanghai, reported zero new infections, the best showing since the outbreak began.

Outside mainland China, the outbreak has spread to about 29 countries and territories, with a death toll of about two dozen, according to a Reuters tally.

South Korea reported 231 new cases, taking its total to 833. Many are in its fourth-largest city, Daegu, which became more isolated with Asiana Airlines (020560.KS) and Korean Air (003490.KS) suspending flights there until next month.

Iran, which announced its first two cases last Wednesday, said it now had 61 cases and 12 deaths. Most of the infections were in the Shi’ite Muslim holy city of Qom.

Elsewhere in the Middle East, Bahrain and Iraq reported their first cases and Kuwait reported three cases involving people who had been in Iran.

Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, Turkey, Pakistan and Afghanistan imposed restrictions on travel and immigration from Iran. Afghanistan also reported its first case, officials said.

Europe’s biggest outbreak is in Italy, with some 150 infections – compared with just three before Friday – and a sixth death.

SHOW MUSTN’T GO ON

In northern Italy, authorities sealed off the worst-affected towns and banned public gatherings across a wide area, halting the carnival in Venice, where there were two cases.

Austria briefly suspended train services over the Alps from Italy after two travelers coming from Italy showed symptoms of fever.

Both tested negative for the new coronavirus but Austrian Interior Minister Karl Nehammer said a task force would meet on Monday to discuss whether to introduce border controls. (Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus tmsnrt.rs/3aIRuz7. Open in an external browser.)

President Xi Jinping urged businesses to get back to work, though he said the epidemic was still “severe and complex, and prevention and control work is in the most difficult and critical stage”.

Xi said on Sunday the outbreak would have a relatively big, but short-term, impact on the economy and the government would step up policy adjustments to help cushion the blow.

Mnuchin, speaking to Reuters in the Saudi city of Riyadh, said he did not expect the coronavirus to have a material impact on the Phase 1 U.S.-China trade deal.

“Obviously that could change as the situation develops,” he added.

Japan had 773 cases as of late Sunday, mostly on a cruise ship quarantined near Tokyo. A third passenger, a Japanese man in his 80s, died on Sunday.

In South Korea, authorities reported a seventh death and dozens more cases on Monday. Of the new cases, 115 were linked to a church in the city of Daegu.

Drone footage showed what appeared to be hundreds of people queuing in a neat line outside a Daegu supermarket to buy face masks. ( tmsnrt.rs/37WP6lA )

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Fear of coronavirus pandemic grows but China eases curbs as new infections fall

BEIJING/SEOUL (Reuters) – Fears of a coronavirus pandemic grew on Monday after sharp rises in new cases reported in Iran, Italy and South Korea but China relaxed restrictions on movements in several places including Beijing as its rates of new infections eased.

The surge of infections outside mainland China triggered steep falls in Asian shares and Wall Street stock futures as investors fled to safe havens such as gold. Oil prices tumbled and the Korean won fell to its lowest since August.

The Geneva-based World Health Organization (WHO) said it no longer had a process for declaring a pandemic but the coronavirus outbreak remained an international emergency.

“We are specially concerned about the rapid increase in cases in … Iran, Italy and the Republic of Korea,” WHO head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a news conference in Sweden via video link.

“The number of cases in those countries has increased significantly in the last two to three days.”

South Korea reported 231 new cases taking its total to 833, as its hard-hit fourth-largest city of Daegu became more isolated with Asiana Airlines and Korean Air suspending flights there until next month.

Iran, which announced its first two cases on Wednesday, said it had confirmed 43 cases and eight deaths. Most of the infections were in the Shi’ite Muslim holy city of Qom.

More cases appeared in the Middle East with Bahrain reporting its first case, the state news agency said, and Kuwait reporting three cases involving people who had been in Iran.

Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, Turkey, Pakistan and Afghanistan imposed travel and immigration restrictions on Iran. But Afghanistan reported its first case on Monday, in the western border province of Herat, again involving someone who had recently been in Iran, officials said.

The WHO has been saying for weeks it dreads the disease reaching countries with weak health systems.

Europe’s biggest outbreak is in Italy with some 150 infections – from just three before Friday – and a fourth death.

[Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus: open tmsnrt.rs/3aIRuz7 in an external browser.]

‘SEVERE AND COMPLEX’

Scientists around the world are scrambling to analyze the virus, but a vaccine is probably more than a year away.

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“Worryingly, it seems that the virus can pass from person-to-person without symptoms, making it extremely difficult track, regardless of what health authorities do,” said Simon Clarke, an expert in cellular microbiology at Britain’s University of Reading.

China postponed the annual meeting of its parliament and would ban the illegal trade and consumption of wildlife, state media reported. The virus originated late last year, apparently in an illegal wildlife market in the city of Wuhan.

But in good news for China, more than 20 province-level jurisdictions including Beijing and Shanghai, reported zero infections, the best showing since the outbreak began.

President Xi Jinping urged businesses to get back to work though he said the epidemic was still “severe and complex, and prevention and control work is in the most difficult and critical stage”.

Excluding central Hubei province, the epicenter of the outbreak, mainland China reported 11 new cases, the lowest since the national health authority started publishing nationwide figures on Jan. 20.

In the Hubei capital of Wuhan, where its 11 million people have been under virtual lockdown for weeks, officials even said healthy people would be allowed to leave the city for crucial operations, but authorities later revoked the decision.

The coronavirus has infected nearly 77,000 people and killed more than 2,500 in China, most in Hubei.

China reported 409 new cases on the mainland, down from 648 a day earlier, taking the total number of infections to 77,150 cases as of Feb. 23. The death toll rose by 150 to 2,592.

Xi said on Sunday the outbreak would have a relatively big, but short-term impact on the economy and the government would step up policy adjustments to help cushion the blow.

TOWNS SEALED

Outside mainland China, the outbreak has spread to about 29 countries and territories, with a death toll of about two dozen, according to a Reuters tally.

Italy sealed off the worst-affected towns and banned public gatherings in much of the north, including halting the carnival in Venice, where there were two cases.

Austria briefly suspended train services over the Alps from Italy after two travelers coming from Italy showed symptoms of fever.

The two tested negative for the coronavirus but Austrian Interior Minister Karl Nehammer said a task force would meet on Monday to discuss whether to introduce border controls with Italy.

In South Korea, authorities reported a seventh death and dozens more cases on Monday. Of the new cases, 115 were linked to a church in the city of Daegu.

Japan had 773 cases as of late Sunday, mostly on a cruise ship quarantined near Tokyo. A third passenger, a Japanese man in his 80s, died on Sunday.

(GRAPHIC: Tracking the novel coronavirus – here)

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Concern over coronavirus spread as cases jump in South Korea, Italy and Iran

SEOUL/SHANGHAI (Reuters) – International concern about the spread of coronavirus outside China grew on Sunday with sharp rises in infections in South Korea, Italy and Iran.

The government in Seoul put the country on high alert after the number of infections surged over 600 with six deaths. A focal point was a church in the southeastern city of Daegu, where a 61-year-old member of the congregation with no recent record of overseas travel tested positive for the virus.

In Italy, the number of cases jumped to above 130 from just three before Friday. Authorities sealed off the worst affected towns and banned public gatherings in much of the north, including halting the carnival in Venice, where there were two cases, to try to contain the biggest outbreak in Europe.

Italian health authorities were struggling to find out how the virus started. “If we cannot find ‘patient zero’ then it means the virus is even more ubiquitous than we thought,” said Luca Zaia, the regional governor of the wealthy Veneto region.

Iran, which announced its first two cases on Wednesday, said it had confirmed 43 cases and eight deaths, with most of the infections in the Shi’ite Muslim holy city of Qom.

China, which has seen the vast majority of cases, reported 648 new infections. But only 18 were outside of Hubei province, the lowest number outside the epicenter since authorities began publishing data a month ago and locked down large parts of the country.

“At present, the epidemic situation is still severe and complex, and prevention and control work is in the most difficult and critical stage,” President Xi Jinping said.

State run television urged people to avoid complacency, drawing attention to people gathering in public areas and tourist spots without wearing masks.

The virus has killed 2,442 people in China, which has reported 76,936 cases, and has slammed the brakes on the world’s second largest economy. It has spread to some 26 other countries and territories, with a death toll of around two dozen, according to a Reuters tally.

“Despite the continuing decline in reported cases from China, the last two days have seen extremely concerning developments elsewhere in the world,” said Paul Hunter, professor of medicine at Britain’s University of East Anglia.

The coronavirus has been fatal in 2% of reported cases, with the elderly and ill the most vulnerable, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), which said on Saturday it was worried by the detection of infections without a clear link to China.

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Graphic: Online site for coronavirus news here

Graphic: Tracking the novel coronavirus here

FRUSTRATION

In South Korea, Catholic churches in Daegu and Gwangju have suspended services and other gatherings, while churches elsewhere saw declines in attendance on Sunday, especially among the elderly.

“If the situation gets worse, I think we’ll need to take more measures,” said Song Gi-young, 53, wearing a face mask at church.

Heo Young-moo, 88, expressed frustration.

“Devotees shouldn’t go to any risky places … Hasn’t it become so widespread because those people didn’t get checked?”,” he said.

South Korea’s president said raising the disease alert to the highest level allowed authorities to send extra resources to Daegu city and Cheongdo county, which were designated “special care zones” on Friday.

It also enables the government to forcibly prevent public activities and order the temporary closure of schools, the Yonhap News Agency said, although the government gave no immediate details on what steps could be taken.

Health officials reported 169 new infections, bringing the total to 602.

‘NO NEED TO PANIC’

Concern about the reach of the coronavirus also grew in Europe and the Middle East.

In Italy, schools and universities were closed and some soccer matches postponed in the affected northern regions of Lombardy and Veneto, the country’s industrial heartland.

Almost a dozen towns in Lombardy and Veneto with a combined population of some 50,000 have effectively been placed under quarantine, with locals urged to stay home and special permission needed to enter or leave the designated areas.

The European Union said it had confidence in the Italian authorities. “We share concern for possible contagion (but) there is no need to panic,” the bloc’s Economic Affairs Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni told reporters.

Iran reported a total of 43 infections, with eight deaths – all since Tuesday. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, Turkey and Afghanistan imposed travel and immigration restrictions on Iran.

ECONOMIC IMPACT

The potential economic impact of the disease was prominent at a meeting of G20 finance ministers in Riyadh.

The International Monetary Fund chief said China’s 2020 growth would likely be lower at 5.6%, down 0.4 percentage points from its January outlook, with 0.1 percentage points shaved from global growth.

Xi highlighted the importance of fighting the epidemic in the capital Beijing, which has recently required people arriving from elsewhere in China to be quarantined at home for 14 days.

He said it would have a relatively big, but short-term impact on the economy and that Beijing would step up policy adjustments to help cushion the blow.

In Japan, where the government is facing growing questions about whether it is doing enough to counter the virus, authorities had confirmed 773 cases by early Sunday evening.

Most of them were from a cruise ship quarantined near Tokyo, the Diamond Princess. A third passenger, a Japanese man in his 80s, died on Sunday.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe instructed government agencies to urgently prepare medical provisions and draft a comprehensive plan to curb the spread.

Graphic: Reuters graphics on the new coronavirus here

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New coronavirus cases fall in China, but WHO concerned by global spread

BEIJING (Reuters) – China reported a sharp fall in new deaths and cases of the coronavirus on Saturday, but world health officials warned it was too early to make predictions about the outbreak as new infections continued to rise in other countries.

Chinese authorities said the mainland had 397 new confirmed cases on Friday, down from 889 a day earlier. The numbers surged elsewhere, though, with outbreaks worsening in South Korea, Iran, Italy and Lebanon.

In South Korea, authorities said on Saturday the number of new infections had doubled to 433, and suggested the tally could rise significantly as more than 1,000 people who attended a church at the center of the outbreak reported flu-like symptoms.

The World Health Organization welcomed the reported decline in new Chinese cases, but said it was concerned about the number of new infections elsewhere with no clear link to China such as travel history or contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19, as the disease caused by the virus is known.

“Our biggest concern continues to be the potential for COVID-19 to spread in countries with weaker health systems,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

The U.N. agency is calling for $675 million to support most vulnerable countries, he said, adding 13 countries in Africa are seen as a priority because of their links to China.

In total, China has reported 75,569 cases to the WHO, and 2,239 deaths, Tedros said. According to available data, the disease remains mild in 80% of patients, and severe or critical in 20%. The virus has been fatal in 2% of reported cases.

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The disease has spread to some 26 countries and territories outside mainland China, killing more than a dozen people, according to a Reuters tally.

‘BLUE WHALE’ ARRIVES

The latest Chinese figures showed only 31 of the new cases on Friday were outside of the virus epicenter of Hubei province, the lowest number since the National Health Commission started compiling nationwide data a month ago.

But new, albeit isolated findings about the coronavirus could complicate efforts to thwart it, including the Hubei government’s announcement on Saturday that an elderly man took 27 days to show symptoms after infection, almost twice the presumed 14-day incubation period.

That follows Chinese scientists reporting that a woman from Wuhan had traveled 400 miles (675 km) and infected five relatives without showing signs of infection.

State television showed the arrival in Wuhan of the “blue whale” on Saturday, the first of seven river cruise ships it is bringing in to house medical workers, tens of thousands of which have been sent to Hubei to contain the virus.

In Italy, the worst-affected country in Europe, the virus has killed two people – a man and a woman in their 70s – and infected another 51 mostly in the north.

Some 50,000 residents in Codogno, southwest of Milan, and nearby towns have been advised to remain indoors. Public gatherings including Sunday masses and football matches have been suspended, and schools and shops have been closed down.

Iran, which had no reported cases earlier this week, on Saturday announced the detection of 10 new cases of coronavirus and two more deaths, appearing to bring the number of infections to 29 and the number of deaths to six.

Japan, which confirmed 14 new cases on Saturday, faces growing questions about whether it is doing enough to contain its outbreak and whether the virus could disrupt this year’s Tokyo Olympics. Organizers postponed the start of training for volunteers as a precaution.

FINANCIAL FEARS

The potential economic impact of the outbreak, which has caused massive disruption to businesses in China, overshadowed a meeting of G20 finance ministers in Saudi Arabia.

International Monetary Fund Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva, presenting the fund’s outlook to central bankers and finance ministers in Riyadh, said the virus would likely lower China’s economic growth this year to 5.6%, down 0.4 percentage points from its January outlook, and shave 0.1 percentage points from global growth.

Asian policymakers sought to soothe investors’ fears over the outbreak, which has roiled global markets, with equities sliding on Friday.

Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda said the yen’s recent declines were largely driven by a strong dollar, shrugging off some market views that the virus epidemic is triggering an outflow of funds from Asia.

Senior Chinese central bank officials, meanwhile, played down worries about the potential damage to the world’s second-largest economy, saying 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 were confident of winning the war against the epidemic.

“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 told state TV.

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New coronavirus cases fall in China, but WHO concerned by global spread

BEIJING (Reuters) – China reported a sharp fall in new deaths and cases of the coronavirus on Saturday, but world health officials warned it was too early to make predictions about the outbreak as new infections continued to rise in other countries.

Chinese authorities said the mainland had 397 new confirmed cases on Friday, down from 889 a day earlier. The numbers surged elsewhere, though, with outbreaks worsening in South Korea, Iran, Italy and Lebanon.

In South Korea, authorities said on Saturday the number of new infections had doubled to 433, and suggested the tally could rise significantly as more than 1,000 people who attended a church at the center of the outbreak reported flu-like symptoms.

The World Health Organization welcomed the reported decline in new Chinese cases, but said it was concerned about the number of new infections elsewhere with no clear link to China such as travel history or contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19, as the disease caused by the virus is known.

“Our biggest concern continues to be the potential for COVID-19 to spread in countries with weaker health systems,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

The U.N. agency is calling for $675 million to support most vulnerable countries, he said, adding 13 countries in Africa are seen as a priority because of their links to China.

In total, China has reported 75,569 cases to the WHO, and 2,239 deaths, Tedros said. According to available data, the disease remains mild in 80% of patients, and severe or critical in 20%. The virus has been fatal in 2% of reported cases.

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The disease has spread to some 26 countries and territories outside mainland China, killing more than a dozen people, according to a Reuters tally.

‘BLUE WHALE’ ARRIVES

The latest Chinese figures showed only 31 of the new cases on Friday were outside of the virus epicenter of Hubei province, the lowest number since the National Health Commission started compiling nationwide data a month ago.

But new, albeit isolated findings about the coronavirus could complicate efforts to thwart it, including the Hubei government’s announcement on Saturday that an elderly man took 27 days to show symptoms after infection, almost twice the presumed 14-day incubation period.

That follows Chinese scientists reporting that a woman from Wuhan had traveled 400 miles (675 km) and infected five relatives without showing signs of infection.

State television showed the arrival in Wuhan of the “blue whale” on Saturday, the first of seven river cruise ships it is bringing in to house medical workers, tens of thousands of which have been sent to Hubei to contain the virus.

In Italy, the worst-affected country in Europe, the virus has killed two people – a man and a woman in their 70s – and infected another 51 mostly in the north.

Some 50,000 residents in Codogno, southwest of Milan, and nearby towns have been advised to remain indoors. Public gatherings including Sunday masses and football matches have been suspended, and schools and shops have been closed down.

Iran, which had no reported cases earlier this week, on Saturday announced the detection of 10 new cases of coronavirus and two more deaths, appearing to bring the number of infections to 29 and the number of deaths to six.

Japan, which confirmed 14 new cases on Saturday, faces growing questions about whether it is doing enough to contain its outbreak and whether the virus could disrupt this year’s Tokyo Olympics. Organizers postponed the start of training for volunteers as a precaution.

FINANCIAL FEARS

The potential economic impact of the outbreak, which has caused massive disruption to businesses in China, overshadowed a meeting of G20 finance ministers in Saudi Arabia.

International Monetary Fund Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva, presenting the fund’s outlook to central bankers and finance ministers in Riyadh, said the virus would likely lower China’s economic growth this year to 5.6%, down 0.4 percentage points from its January outlook, and shave 0.1 percentage points from global growth.

Asian policymakers sought to soothe investors’ fears over the outbreak, which has roiled global markets, with equities sliding on Friday.

Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda said the yen’s recent declines were largely driven by a strong dollar, shrugging off some market views that the virus epidemic is triggering an outflow of funds from Asia.

Senior Chinese central bank officials, meanwhile, played down worries about the potential damage to the world’s second-largest economy, saying 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 were confident of winning the war against the epidemic.

“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 told state TV.

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U.S. Treasury's Mnuchin: Tax certainty needed on global basis

RIYADH (Reuters) – U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Saturday it was very important to have tax certainty on a global basis and that the OECD was very close to consensus on a framework for minimum corporate tax.

“You cannot have in a global economy different national tax systems that conflict with each other,” Mnuchin told an economic conference in Saudi Arabia, which is hosting finance leaders of the world’s 20 largest economies.

“The good news is we’re very close to a consensus on pillar 2,” he said, referring to OECD tax reform talks on an international framework for minimum corporate tax.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development is in the middle of the biggest rewrite of decades-old international tax rules that proposes giving governments more power to tax big multinationals doing business in their countries.

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China reports fall in new coronavirus cases but concerns grow over spread elsewhere

BEIJING (Reuters) – China reported a sharp 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 of winning the fight against the epidemic.

Mainland China had 397 new confirmed cases of coronavirus infections on Friday, down from 889 a day earlier, with the vast majority of those in the epicenter of Hubei province, the National Health Commission said.

The 31 new infections recorded in the rest of the country was the lowest since the commission started compiling nationwide data on Jan. 20, and sharply down from 258 new cases the previous day.

But the numbers continued to rise elsewhere, with outbreaks worsening in South Korea, Italy and Iran and Lebanon, prompting a warning from the World Health Organization that the window of opportunity to contain the international spread was closing..

South Korea saw another spike in infections with 142 confirmed cases, taking its tally to 346, about half related to people who attended a church service.

Concerns about the virus weighed on U.S. stocks on Friday, driven by an earlier spike in cases in China and data showing stalling U.S. business activity in February. [MKTS/GLOB]

The virus has spread to some 26 countries and territories outside mainland China, killing 11 people, according to a Reuters tally, and among the WHO’s biggest concerns was cases without links to China.

“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.

Japan confirmed four new coronavirus cases on Saturday, among those a teacher who had shown symptoms while working at her school.

Japan is facing growing questions about whether it is doing enough to contain its spread, and unease about whether it could scupper this year’s Tokyo Olympics. Organizers of the games on Saturday postponed the start of training for volunteers.

NEW COMPLICATIONS

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. Hubei reported 106 new deaths of which 90 in Wuhan.

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But new, albeit isolated findings about symptoms of the coronavirus could complicate efforts to thwart it, including the Hubei government’s announcement on Saturday that an elderly man took 27 days to show symptoms after infection, almost twice the presumed 14-day incubation period.

That follows Chinese scientists reporting that a woman from Wuhan had traveled 400 miles (675 km) and infected five relatives without showing signs of infection, offering new evidence of asymptomatical spreading.

State television on Saturday showed the arrival in Wuhan of the “blue whale”, the first of seven river cruise ships it is bringing in to house medical workers, tens of thousands of which have been sent to Hubei to contain the virus.

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.

ASSURANCES OF ACTION

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.

“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 told state television.

China has recently cut several 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 epidemic and strict government containment measures. On an annual basis, some warn growth could fall by as much as half from 6% in the fourth quarter.

Most expect a rebound in the spring if the outbreak can be contained soon and factories can return to normal production.

However, transport restrictions remain in many areas and while more firms are reopening, the limited data available suggests manufacturing is still running at low levels and disruptions are starting to spillover into global supply chains.[uZON00080A]

Finance leaders from the Group of 20 major economies were set to discuss risks to the world economy in Saudi Arabia this weekend.

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

Four more Australian evacuated from the ship tested positive, in addition to two previously identified. A second plane with 82 Hong Kong residents returned home on Saturday and 35 British passengers were due to arrive home. [nL8N2AL1DP

U.S. health officials said they were preparing for the possibility of the spread of the coronavirus through communities and would force closures of schools and businesses.

The United States has 13 cases within the country and 21 among Americans repatriated on evacuation flights from Wuhan and the Diamond Princess.

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