Coronavirus latest: China vows to ‘liquidate’ virus by end of March


Israel confirms first case of virus

Ilan Ben Zion reports from Tel Aviv:

Israel’s Health Ministry has said that testing of the eleven citizens evacuated back to the country from the Diamond Princess cruise ship found that one woman has tested positive for the coronavirus.

The case marks the first case in Israel. The remainder of the group tested negative.

The group of eleven Israelis landed at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport earlier this morning on a government-chartered flight after being evacuated off the Diamond Princess in Japan.

Upon arrival, paramedics transported the arrivals to a nearby hospital for a two-week quarantine at a special isolation facility. Four other Israeli nationals who were aboard the cruise ship and contracted coronavirus remain hospitalised in Japan.

Hubei chief seeks to block more case revisions

Yuan Yang in Beijing reports:

Hubei’s provincial party secretary has pushed to block more revisions to the coronavirus figures and requested officials to add back the cases that were removed.

The directive from Ying Yong follows a week in which several adjustments were made, mostly without explanation, to the reporting methodology in Hubei, the province in China where the virus was first detected.

The provincial health commission deputy head defended the adjustments as in line with national guidelines.

Mr Ying was appointed last week to lead Hubei province as part of the national government’s attempt to present a fresh front on the push to contain the Covid-19 virus. His announcement may yield another surge in cases in the coming days, if officials take heed.

Commodities poised for sell-off, Goldman says

Henry Sanderson in London reports:

Commodities are poised for a sell-off once they price in the disruption to global supply chains due to the coronavirus, Goldman Sachs has said.

The virus has created the “largest disruption to commodity-related activity” since the financial crisis yet commodity prices have risen on hopes of stimulus, according to the bank’s analysts.

“The promise of stimulus has led to commodities acting like equity markets, in our view, ignoring the physical realities of the disruption today,” said analyst Jeff Currie.

Goldman said supply and demand is “out of balance in nearly every market” and it expects “significant downside risks to commodity prices” before Chinese stimulus later this year.

“The recent rally however, is overdone,” it said.

In contrast, gold is likely to rise to $1,750 a troy ounce as investors look for portfolio diversification, Goldman said. If the disruption from the virus stretches on into the second quarter, it could go even higher to $1,850, the bank said.

Mr Currie added:

The bottom line is we still see gold as a strategic allocation to protect a portfolio from geopolitical risks such as the current outbreak, de-dollarization and negative real yields.

Eurozone manufacturing decline eases even as virus hits supply chains

All through the European morning we have been bringing you survey data on the health of the single-currency economy. Investors are watching this closely, and the news has been better than expected.

Data for the eurozone has shows a regional drop in manufacturing activity eased in February, despite the impact of the virus.

“To the extent that markets and forecasters were coming into this release with fears of a virus hit, those fears have been convincingly dispelled, at least for now,” said Claus Vistesen, chief eurozone economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics.

Chris Williamson, chief business economist at IHS Markit, said the region’s economy picked up momentum “despite many companies having been disrupted in various ways by the coronavirus”. He added the impact of the disease had caused supply problems, and showed some signs of hitting travel and tourism numbers.

The key figures are for regional powerhouse Germany. While its headline PMI figures improved, signs of the impact from the virus lingered.

The slower pace of decline in German factory activity was largely due to new domestic orders, while foreign orders fell markedly, and at their fastest rate for three months in February. Indeed, goods producers reported “a slump in both exports and sentiment, linked to the impact of the coronavirus on activity in China and the wider region”, according to the report.

Ingram Pinn: Supply and demand

Companies grappling with the supply chain disruptions include Apple supplier Foxconn, Samsung, which has begun flying electronic components for its latest Galaxy phones from China to its factories in Vietnam, and LG Electronics.

Pearson to face hit from closed universities and test centres in China

Pearson said the coronavirus outbreak would have a commercial impact on the educational publisher, with some universities and testing centres in China closed in recent weeks in order to contain its spread, writes Mark Di Stefano in London.

Outgoing chief executive John Fallon made the comments during Pearson’s annual results on Friday, which showed the company had reported a drop in sales exacerbated by results from its struggling US textbook business.

Mr Fallon predicted there would be a “short term” commercial impact on Pearson’s profits, although any impact would be limited as China makes up just 3 per cent of the company’s revenues.

With schools, universities, testing centres closed through until the end of March that will have some short-term commercial impact.

People can carry on learning from home because of Pearson’s online capabilities and partnerships with Chinese technology companies, he added.

We are not looking to make a short-term commercial advantage from that.

German manufacturing slowdown eases

It is a busy morning for investors hoping to quantify the impact of the coronavirus on the European economy, with a steady drip of surveys released this morning.

The news from Germany’s manufacturing sector was better than feared. The PMIs – surveys of industry executives – showed a slump in German manufacturing activity eased in February, although factory activity was lodged in contraction.

The flash PMI figures, based on about 80 per cent of responses, offer one of the first significant snapshots of how companies are dealing with the economic fallout from the deadly Covid-19 that has claimed more than 2,200 lives and disrupted supply chains.

France’s manufacturing data however was less rosy. The euro traded 0.3 per cent higher against the dollar following that (relatively) strong performance in Germany.

South Korea declares ‘special zones’ as outbreak deepens

South Korea has declared a major city and its neighbour “special care zones” in an attempt to contain one of the worst outbreaks of the coronavirus outside China.

The emergency measures, in which authorities have told citizens of Daegu and Cheongdo to confine themselves to their homes, came as authorities in China reported a sharp rise in patients in Beijing and as three Chinese provinces revealed outbreaks in their prisons.

Read more from Song Jung-a in Seoul.


Coronavirus disrupts manufacturing activity in France

Valentina Romei writes:

Manufacturing activity in France slumped to a seven-month low in February, weighed down by disruption related to the outbreak of coronavirus.

France’s IHS Markit purchasing manager index for manufacturing dropped to 49.7 in February, down from 51 in the previous month and below the 51.3 forecast by economists polled by Reuters. This was the lowest reading in seven months.

Eliot Kerr, economist at IHS Markit, said:

Automotive sector weakness, the prolonged discontinuation of Boeing 737 Max production and supply-chain issues related to the coronavirus, all negatively impacted on French manufacturers in the latest survey period.

However the slip in manufacturing activity was compensated by the resilience of the services sector, with a PMI reading that rose to 52.6 in February from 51 in the previous month, pushing the composite index, an average of the two sector, up to 51.9 from 51.1 in the previous month.


China ambassador to Russia says virus ‘will be liquidated’ by March end

Henry Foy in Moscow reports:

China will eradicate the coronavirus on its territory by the end of March, the country’s ambassador to Moscow has told Russian lawmakers.

“We can win a complete victory over this virus,” Zhang Hanhui said at a meeting with Ivan Melnikov, first deputy speaker of Russia’s lower house of parliament.

“Outside of Hubei, in other regions, we can win this victory already this month. And in the centre of the epidemic, the disease will be liquidated next month,” he said, in remarks published by Russian state news agencies.

“Today, more than 18,000 people have been discharged from hospitals. In many provinces and regions, except the central part, there have been no new infections for more than 10 days. In Hubei, especially in Wuhan, the number of infected people is decreasing,” Mr Zhang said, adding that the virus’ mortality rate in Hubei was around 2 per cent, and just 0.55 per cent in the rest of the country.

Nissan and Honda push back China plant restarts again

Kana Inagaki reports from Tokyo:

Nissan and Honda have once again delayed the restart of some of their plants in China as the coronavirus outbreak continues to disrupt global car supply chains.

Honda said it now expects to suspend production at its three plants in Wuhan, the Chinese city at the centre of the deadly outbreak, until March 10 and plans to resume production sometime after March 11, in compliance with guidance from local authorities.

The company said it does not expect disruptions to plants outside of China but warned the impact would start to be felt elsewhere if the restart in Wuhan is substantially delayed from mid-March.

Meanwhile, Nissan said it would keep its plants near the centre of the outbreak closed after February 24 — the day it had hoped to resume production — and did not provide a new date for reopening. The carmaker did, however, restart its operations at its plant in the northeastern city of Dalian.

Nissan had earlier reduced production at its plants in Japan due to issues with procuring components from China.

Israel evacuates 11 citizens from Diamond Princess

Ilan Ben Zion reports from Tel Aviv:

Eleven Israelis evacuated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan landed at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport early Friday morning on a government-chartered flight.

Upon arrival, paramedics transported the arrivals to a nearby hospital for a two-week quarantine at a special isolation facility.

Four other Israeli nationals who were aboard the Diamond Princess and contracted coronavirus remain hospitalized in Japan.

Sheba Medical Center director Professor Yitshak Kreiss told Israel’s Army Radio the facility is treating them “as if they have a high chance of contagion, but they may all turn out negative”.

Israel has had no confirmed cases of the coronavirus. Earlier this week the country’s health authorities adopted strict regulations to help prevent the disease’s spread. The interior minister barred entry to foreign nationals who had spent time in China, Thailand, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Macau in the past two weeks, and the health ministry ordered Israelis returning from those countries to undergo a two-week home quarantine.

Health ministry spokesman Eyal Basson said that as of Thursday, over 500 Israelis had been ordered to do a period of home isolation after returning from East Asia.

With the third national elections in under a year less than two weeks away, and people under self-quarantine barred from leaving their homes, Basson said the health ministry is “in the process of drafting guidelines allowing those in home isolation to vote”.

Citic Bank and AIBank give hot pot chain Haidilao $298.5m loan

China’s Citic Bank and AIBank will loan hot pot chain Haidilao Rmb2.1bn ($298.5) to help it weather the coronavirus outbreak after the group temporarily shut its restaurants.

AIBank, a joint venture between Citic Bank and technology company Baidu, praised Haidilao on its WeChat account for not laying off any of its 100,000 employees and for donating tens of thousands of do-it-yourself hot pot sets to hospitals in Hubei province.

Haidilao suspended operations in mainland China on January 28. It said on February 2 that the suspension would continue to “support the epidemic prevention and control”.

The bank said it had decided to provide support to the chain after seeing the “big love” from Haidilao in the face of the challenge from the outbreak. The restaurant group likened the loan to sending charcoal in snowy weather.

Hot pot involves cooking pieces of meat or vegetables into a communal pot of broth.

Haidilao shares are down 7 per cent from a mid-January peak.

Taiwan reports 2 new coronavirus cases

Kathrin Hille reports from Taipei

Taiwan reported two more confirmed cases on Friday, bringing its total count to 26.

The two new cases are the 20-year-old granddaughter and the daughter of case 24, a woman in her 60s for whom it remains unclear how she was infected.

The two latest cases mark Taiwan’s second family cluster infection in less than a week.

China expects sharp fall in trade on coronavirus disruptions

Sue-Lin Wong reports from Hong Kong

China’s exports and imports will fall sharply in January and February due to disruptions from the coronavirus outbreak, the country’s commerce ministry said on Friday.

The public health emergency has prevented many businesses from restarting operations after the lunar new year holiday and has disrupted the country’s supply chain, said Li Xingqian, director of the ministry’s foreign trade department, according to Chinese state media.

Europe: what you might have missed

There were more revisions for coronavirus figures from Hubei, the centre of the outbreak, as the province added 220 previously unrecorded cases from its prison system. That took the overall number of new cases to the end of Thursday to 631 from 349 a day earlier.

The number of new deaths in China from the virus was 118, level with the previous day and taking the total deaths to 2,236.

Coronavirus cases were recorded in prisons in Shandong and Zhejiang provinces in China’s east.

New clusters of cases in Beijing and a jump in the number diagnosed in South Korea to 156 unnerved investors. South Korea’s Kospi was down 1.5 per cent in afternoon trading and gold, which is seen as a haven at times of uncertainty, rose to its highest in more than seven years at $1,629 an ounce.

An international airline body has warned that a fall in demand and flight cancellations triggered by coronavirus could take $29bn off revenue for carriers in 2020.

Hubei adjusts coronavirus count to add 220 prison cases

Hubei province, the centre of the coronavirus outbreak, restated the number of cases of the virus up until Thursday to include 220 cases previously unaccounted for in its prisons.

That takes the total number of new cases in Hubei to 631 on Thursday against the previous day’s tally of 349.

The governments of Shandong and Zhejiang on Friday announced 229 cases in their prisons.

Beijing sees sharp increase in coronavirus cases

Sue-Lin Wong reports from Hong Kong

A hospital in central Beijing has reported a sharp increase in the number of coronavirus patients, with 36 suspected cases as of Thursday.

Eight medical staff, nine cleaners and 19 patients at Fuxing Hospital in Beijing’s Xicheng district are suspected of having been infected with the virus, the city’s government said on Thursday.

The district ranks second behind Wuhan for “infection density” measured as the number of confirmed cases per square kilometre, according to Global Times, a Chinese state media tabloid.

There are also three confirmed cases at Peking University People’s Hospital, also in Xicheng district.

Coronavirus cases surge among inmates in two China prisons

Don Weinland reports from Beijing

Two prisons in China reported sudden surges in cases of coronavirus on Friday.

The government of Shandong province in eastern China said on Friday morning that it had recorded 202 new cases in the province a day earlier, 200 of which were at a prison in the city of Rencheng, according to local media.

Separate reports said that officials in Zhejiang province on Friday morning also acknowledged 27 new cases in Shilifeng prison. The prison had previously reported seven cases.

It was unclear why the two provinces, hundreds of kilometres apart, both reported serious outbreaks at prisons at the same time.

At a press conference on Friday morning, a senior provincial official, Yu Chenghe, admitted that the sudden surge in cases at the Rencheng prison “reflected that we did not grab the outbreak situation tightly enough”.

Asia stocks slip after jump in S Korea coronavirus cases

Hudson Lockett reports from Hong Kong

Stocks fell in Asia on Friday as the number of coronavirus cases in South Korea soared, with a drop in US treasury yields underscoring investor concerns over the economic fallout of the outbreak.

South Korea’s benchmark Kospi index dropped 1.2 per cent, making it the worst performer in the region as authorities confirmed the number of cases in the country had surged to 156.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng dropped 1 per cent, while China’s CSI 300 was down 0.1 per cent.

Havens benefitted from the risk-off sentiment, with gold rising 0.3 per cent to $1,623 per ounce and yields on 10-year US Treasuries falling 2 basis points to 1.499 per cent, dropping below 1.5 per cent for the first time in nearly six months. Bond yields fall as prices rise.

Analysts at Nomura estimated China’s official manufacturing PMI could drop to a range of 30 to 40 in February, from 50 in January. Readings below 50 indicate contraction.

The analysts added that “markets might underestimate the scale of the current growth slump”.

South Korea vows ‘strong and swift’ measures to combat disease

Song Jung-a reports from Seoul

South Korea’s prime minister, Chung Sye-kyun, has vowed to take “strong and swift” measures to prevent further spread of the coronavirus amid growing concerns that the outbreak is spiralling out of control.

The country on Friday reported 52 new cases of the Covid-19 virus, including 33 cases traced to the Shincheonji Church of Jesus in Daegu, about 235km south-east of Seoul. The spike in new cases has brought the total number of people infected in South Korea to 156, according to Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Mr Chung declared Daegu and Cheongdo as “special care zones” as a cluster of new cases were reported there in recent days. Daegu is South Korea’s fourth-largest city and home to 2.4m people. Daegu mayor Kwon Young-jin has asked citizens to not travel, while Mr Chung has pledged to concentrate state support to the region by supplying more hospital beds, medical personnel and equipment.

“The government has so far focused on curbing infections coming from outside the country. From now on, the government will further prioritise preventing the virus from spreading locally,” Mr Chung said.

The Seoul city government said on Friday it would ban public rallies in the central business district and close down Shincheonji’s churches in Seoul. It would also temporarily shut more than 3,000 public welfare facilities across the capital.

More infections are likely to be reported by Shincheonji followers. Daegu city authorities said on Friday that more than 400 church members of 3,000 surveyed were showing symptoms.

Tracking the coronavirus outbreak

Steven Bernard on the FT’s data visualisation team has crunched the latest numbers on the coronavirus outbreak. More than 76,000 people globally have been infected with Covid-19, while the death toll has climbed above 2,200.

See more here

China reports 118 new coronavirus deaths

Health authorities in China recorded 118 new coronavirus deaths to the end of Thursday, taking the overall figure to 2,236. That was in line with the figure from a day earlier.

There were 889 new cases across mainland China, taking the total to 75,465. The number was higher than the previous day’s figure, when 394 cases were recorded after some cases were removed following negative laboratory tests for the virus.

Airline body warns of $29bn loss for carriers over coronavirus

A fall in demand for air travel sparked by coronavirus could result in a $29.3bn hit to global airline revenues in 2020, according to an industry body.

The International Air Transport Association forecasts airlines in the Asia-Pacific region could lose $27.8bn in revenue with Chinese airlines losing $12.8bn in the domestic market alone.

Two-thirds of Chinese passenger planes have been grounded as a result of the virus and passenger numbers fell 70 per cent from January 27 to February 12, compared to a year earlier, according to the Civil Aviation Administration of China.

It forecasts a 13 per cent full-year fall in passenger demand in Asia-Pacific for 2020 in what its director general expects to be a “very tough year for airlines”.

“The estimated impact of the Covid-19 outbreak also assumes that the centre of the public health emergency remains in China,” Iata said. “If it spreads more widely to Asia-Pacific markets then impacts on airlines from other regions would be larger.”

US and European airlines have cancelled flights to China, while Singapore Airlines has scaled back flights across its network up until the end of May. Qantas Airways has reduced flights to Asia, citing weak demand.

The estimates are based on how the Sars outbreak hit air travel in 2003, when demand dropped for six months but then saw an “equally quick recovery”, Iata said.

Hubei records 115 new deaths from coronavirus

Alice Woodhouse reports from Hong Kong

Hubei, the Chinese province at the centre of the coronavirus outbreak, reported 115 new deaths to the end of Thursday, taking its total to 2,144. Provincial health authorities said there were 411 new cases, up from the previous day’s tally of 349. The case tally dropped sharply this week after hundreds of clinically diagnosed cases were ruled out following laboratory testing.

There were 319 new cases in Wuhan, the city where the virus was first found, down from 615 a day earlier.

Two Diamond Princess passengers test positive in Australia

Alice Woodhouse reports from Hong Kong

Australian health authorities said two passengers who were evacuated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan have tested positive for coronavirus.

The country evacuated 164 people from the ship in Japan after they tested negative for Covid-19 and did not show any symptoms before the flight.

Australia’s department of health said six people showed minor respiratory symptoms or fever and that they had been separated from the wider group.

More than 600 passengers on the vessel tested positive for coronavirus and two have died. The Diamond Princess was held in quarantine in Japan, but the virus spread through the ship.

The Australians were evacuated from the ship and held in quarantine in Australia for 14 days. Several other countries have arranged evacuations for their nationals.

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