Coronavirus: President Trump praises China’s response to outbreak


Battery maker Umicore CEO warns on impact to China EV market

Henry Sanderson reports:

Belgian battery materials maker Umicore has warned that the coronavirus will “amplify” an economic slowdown in China and hit the electric car market.

Marc Grynberg told the Financial Times:

There is a distinct risk … China is the largest EV market in the world … A larger chunk of that supply chain may be affected by the coronavirus. But it’s too early to tell if the effect will be protracted or material.

Europe’s largest cobalt refiner said it did not expect EV sales in China to “show a material degree of recovery” this year, even before the impact of the virus.

The outbreak of coronavirus will “amplify the economic slowdown,” he said.

Sales of new energy vehicles – which includes plug-in hybrids and fuel cell vehicles – fell by 4 per cent last year in China after Beijing reduced subsidies for buyers of EVs. Mr Grynberg said growth for battery materials was likely to be driven by growth in Europe this year, as carmakers boost sales of EVs to meet strict CO2 guidelines.

“I have a positive view on Europe whereas I’m cautious not to say pessimistic on China,” he said.

Singapore confirms three more cases as it raises alert to orange

Singapore has reported another three coronavirus cases, which include those with no travel history to China or links to previously confirmed cases, taking the city state’s total to 33, reports Stefania Palma in Singapore.

Singapore on Friday raised its risk assessment for the virus from yellow to orange. Four of the cases have had no connection to infected individuals or travel history to China.

The increased alert level means taking a number of additional measures, such as urging event organisers to “cancel or defer non-essential large-scale events”, the ministry of health said on Friday.

The city state has requested employers to ensure staff check their temperatures regularly, at least twice a day, as well as enhance “business continuity plans“ including splitting workers into segregated teams.

Schools will suspend inter school and external activities until the end of the March holidays and the government advises people not to shake hands.

The three new cases include Singapore citizens – two women and a man – aged 42, 39 and 53. Of Singapore’s confirmed cases, two patients have been discharged, two are in critical condition and the others are mostly stable or improving.

Trump praises Chinese ‘discipline’ in countering virus

Donald Trump has weighed in on Beijing’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak, taking to Twitter to compliment China on its “great discipline”.

The US president was unsparing in his praise for his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, whom he described as “strong, sharp and powerfully focused”.

Mr Trump’s comments follow criticism from Beijing over the US response to the outbreak, in particular a ban on foreign nationals who have travelled to China in the previous two weeks from entering the US.

On Twitter today, Mr Trump insisted: “We are working closely with China to help.”

Taiwan cutting transport links with China

Kathrin Hille in Taipei writes:

Taiwan is drastically cutting its air and sea links with China, as the country tries to protect against new infections.

The radical limits are set to hamper the hundreds of thousands of Taiwanese who do business or work in China. Over the past decade, the two sides have opened direct flights between hundreds of Chinese cities and Taiwan’s main airports, flying Chinese tourists to Taiwan and Taiwanese to China for work and travel.

Starting on Monday, all direct flights to and from Chinese airports other than Beijing Capital, Shanghai Pudong, Shanghai Hongqiao, Xiamen, and Chengdu will be suspended until the end of April, Taiwan’s Epidemic Management Centre said. Taiwan is also suspending ferry links between its outlying islands of Kinmen and Matsu with China’s Fujian Province.

The cuts will make it extremely difficult for many Taiwanese companies to keep managing their China operations. More than 1m Taiwanese live and work in China, and Taiwanese-owned companies especially in electronics manufacturing are among China’s largest exporters and employers.

While Taiwan suspended the admission of Chinese citizens late last month – the first country to do so as part of its epidemic response measures – its own citizens are still allowed to travel to and from China, although they have to self-quarantine for 14 days every time they come home.

Taiwan also announced that from Monday, all travellers arriving in the country after transit in any Chinese airport including Hong Kong and Macao will be required to self-quarantine for 14 days.

Singapore grants companies more time to submit annual reports

Regulators in Singapore have given companies a two-month reprieve to submit their annual reports and hold their annual shareholder meetings as the effects of the coronavirus outbreak take hold.

The Singapore Exchange Regulation said on Friday it would grant an extension until June 30 to groups holding their AGMs to approve their earnings reports for the year to December 31 2019. Companies must send their annual reports to shareholders and the exchange at least 14 days before their meeting.

SGX RegCo said its decision follows comments from auditors of their “practical difficulties in performing statutory audits”, due to authorities’ measures in response to the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Criteria include companies that call China their main place of business or have significant operations there. Added to that, their statutory audits for FY Dec 2019 were affected due to the travel restrictions and/or other measures imposed by the authorities in response to the virus, the statement from SGX RegCo said.

Singapore’s Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority said it will waive the fees to any company seeking an extension providing they fulfil the criteria.

Chinese copper traders declare force majeure over coronavirus

Sun Yu reports from Beijing:

Copper traders in China, the world’s largest buyer of the metal, have asked miners from Chile to Nigeria to cancel or delay shipments as the deadly coronavirus outbreak hits demand.

Multiple Chinese copper buyers said they had scrapped or postponed overseas orders by declaring force majeure since the end of January, when Beijing began to report a surge in coronavirus infections.

Copper, a barometer for the health of the global economy, is the latest commodity to fall victim to the epidemic.

China’s efforts to contain the virus, ranging from restricting highway traffic to extending the lunar new year holiday, have affected industrial activity and raised concerns about growth in the world’s second-biggest economy. 

Chinese buyers of liquefied natural gas have also considered declaring force majeure, a clause that identifies natural disasters or other unavoidable catastrophes as cause for not fulfilling a contract.

Click here for more on this story.

Honda says it can avoid ‘major’ virus hit if plants reopen next week

Kana Inagaki reports from Tokyo

Honda said it does not expect a major impact on its earnings from the coronavirus outbreak in China if the Japanese carmaker can reopen its three plants in Wuhan on February 14, a new timeline it set on Friday.

While rival Fiat Chrysler has warned that one of its European plants will be forced to halt its production in a matter of weeks due to a parts shortage, Honda said it does not expect production outside of China to be halted from supply chain disruptions if it can stick with its latest schedule.

“We don’t see a major impact on our operating profit if we can resume as scheduled,” Seiji Kuraishi, Honda’s executive vice-president, said at a news conference in Tokyo. “If the shutdown is extended, it will be a different matter.”

Mr Kuraishi said the company keeps about three days worth of inventory for car components, saying it was working to minimise the impact by putting priority on producing parts that could face shortage soon.

While car-assembly plants in Wuhan will be reopened on February 14, production is expected to resume in the week of Feb 17 after the company completes checks on employee safety, manufacturing lines and parts supplies.

Its four other plants in China outside of Wuhan are expected to reopen on February 10.

Global shares steady after week of records outside China

European stocks were flat in early trading on Friday, as global markets paused following a week of strong gains outside China.

Futures pointed to modest losses on Wall Street, where the focus will be on US jobs numbers later on Friday. Asian shares had a quiet session. Mainland Chinese indexes ended the week deep in the red following Monday’s aggressive sell-off, with the CSI 300 index of Shanghai and Shenzhen-listed shares down 2.6 per cent. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index was 0.3 per cent lower on Friday.

The composite Stoxx 600 of Europe’s biggest companies fell 0.2 per cent, coming off Thursday’s record close. New York’s S&P500 also finished Thursday trading at an all-time high.

David Lafferty, global market strategist at Natixis Investment Managers, said initial weakness across Asian markets in response to the virus “was a knee-jerk reaction”.

At such an early stage, it is simply fear of an open-end, hard-to-handicap event. Having seen the response from China, markets are rebounding.

Markets have rallied in spite of the fact that the virus is still spreading rapidly.

EmoticonBurberry shares fall following virus warning

Shares in Burberry have fallen 3 per cent at the open after the luxury fashion group warned over the coronavirus’s impact on Chinese sales.

“It is more serious in Hong Kong than the protests,” said chief financial officer Julie Brown, referring to the street protests that caused sales there to halve from 8 per cent of the group total in the three months to end-December. “This has had even more significant impact on our Hong Kong business.” 

Shares in Burberry have now fallen 17 per cent since mid-January.

Shares in France’s L’Oréal rose 2 per cent even as it warned the outbreak of the coronavirus would cause a temporary slowdown in the beauty market in China, a key driver of its growth, and also affect travel retail, although it was “too early to assess” the extent of the risk. 

Biotech company sees ‘unprecedented’ interest in its virus tests

Diagnostics company Novacyt said it is in talks with NHS hospitals and Public Health England over a test for coronavirus which it says will give a result in less than two hours.

Researchers are racing to develop effective, portable tests for the current strain of coronavirus, and shares in the Anglo-French medical company have more than doubled in value since it announced it had developed one last week.

On Friday, Novacyt said it has seen “unprecedented” interest in its new tests, and has received 33,000 orders from around the world. It has already sold some to British hospitals for trials, and has applied to US authorities for emergency regulatory approval.

Graham Mullis, chief executive, said:

We have received unprecedented interest in our test and anticipate demand continuing to grow.

Semiconductor group labels virus situation ‘a negative lottery’

By Kathrin Hille in Taipei

The world’s largest semiconductor testing and packaging company has warned it is unable to predict how the novel coronavirus epidemic will impact its business.

Taiwan-based ASE Technology Holding said whether and when it could resume production in China following the Lunar New Year holiday was entirely in the hands of government officials.

Chinese authorities are scrambling to contain the spread of the disease with a raft of restrictions on economic activity and the movement of people.

“These measures will determine the availability of labour, the health of the supply chain and the health of overall demand,” said Ken Hsiang, the company’s head of investor relations. He called the outbreak a “negative lottery” which had sparked an overabundance of caution on the personal, corporate and national government levels.

“The impact on our business is unpredictable,” Mr Hsiang said on a call with investors. ASE said it had considered not giving any guidance, and added that although it had decided against that option, investors should regard its outlook with a wider variance than usual.

ASE forecast revenues in its core chip assembly, testing and materials business in the three months to March 31 to be roughly similar to the level seen in the second and third quarters of last year – between NT$59bn and NT$67bn, and revenues in its electronics contract manufacturing business to be flat compared with the same period a year ago – about NT$35bn.

The company said its forecast took into account expectations of higher labour costs due to the disruption caused by the outbreak. ASE said that in an optimistic scenario, its China-based production could return to 85 per cent of normal levels by the end of this month.

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Wuhan government mourns death of doctor, state media says

Chinese state media has reported that Wuhan’s local government has expressed “deep condolences and sadness” over the death of Li Wenliang, the doctor who warned over the spread of the coronavirus.

In a statement reported on Xinhua, Wuhan’s municipal government said: “We express our deep condolences and sadness, pay our tribute to him for fighting on the front line against the epidemic, and show our sincere sympathy to his family.”

The death of the doctor, who was censored by the government over his earlier warnings, has sparked an outpouring of grief and anger in China.

The news, which emerged overnight, dominated social media site Weibo on Friday, where users heavily criticised the government over its handling of the crisis.

Also on Friday, China’s central government said it was sending a team to Wuhan to investigate “problems reported by the masses” involving Li Wenliang.

Read more on the impact of Li Wenliang’s death here.

Burberry warns coronavirus impact on its business will worsen

The fashion house has told the stock exchange that visits to its Chinese stores have greatly reduced because of travel restrictions, while its international shops, which are popular destinations for wealthy Chinese tourists, will likely also be affected.

Burberry said:

Our most recent guidance for the year ended March 2020 predates the impact of the coronavirus outbreak and we wanted to update the market.

Currently 24 of our 64 stores in Mainland China are closed with remaining stores operating with reduced hours and seeing significant footfall declines. This is impacting retail sales in both Mainland China and Hong Kong S.A.R.

The spending patterns of Chinese customers in Europe and other tourist destinations have been less impacted to date but given widening travel restrictions, we anticipate these to worsen over the coming weeks.

Chief executive Marco Gobbetti commented:

The outbreak of the coronavirus in mainland China is having a material negative effect on luxury demand. While we cannot currently predict how long this situation will last, we remain confident in our strategy. In the meantime, we are taking mitigating actions and every precaution to help ensure the safety and wellbeing of our employees.

Burberry has been focusing its expansion strategy on mainland China to take advantage of a shift by the nation’s luxury goods shoppers towards buying at home instead of when they visit Europe and the US.

In the three months to November, Burberry told analysts on an earnings call, sales growth in mainland China was running in the “high teens”.

The group’s business in Hong Kong has already been suffering because of widespread pro-democracy protests in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory.

Burberry reported a 38 per cent decline in Hong Kong sales for the quarter to last November. But on that earnings call Mr Gobbetti also said: “”we expect China to remain the greatest contributor to luxury growth over the next five years.”

Thai official says tourists refusing to wear masks should be “kicked out”

John Reed reports from Bangkok

A senior Thai government official said on Friday that “farang” (European or white) visitors to the country who refused to wear face masks should be “kicked out”.

Anutin Charnvirakul, Thailand’s health minister and deputy prime minister, made the remarks at an event in which he handed out surgical masks to ward off transmission of the coronavirus.

He said that while Chinese and other Asian tourists were accepting the masks, some Europeans were not wearing them.

“Those ‘farang’ tourists – that’s something the embassies should be notified of and the public as well,” Mr Anutin said. “They don’t care about the big picture and these tourists are in the country, we’re giving the masks to them and they still refuse.”
He added: “They need to be kicked out of Thailand.”

Thailand’s tourist industry, which accounts for more than 10 per cent of GDP in south-east Asia’s second-largest economy, is reeling from a collapse in visitor arrivals from the mainland. China accounted for more than 10m of the 38m foreign tourists who visited the country last year.

On February 1-5, the latest dates for which data are available, international arrivals at Bangkok’s main Suvarnabhumi airport were down nearly 40 per cent on the same period a year ago, according to the Tourism Authority of Thailand. Arrivals were down 52 per cent at the Thai capital’s Don Mueang airport, a hub for budget flights to China.

Prayuth Chan-ocha’s Thai government has come under criticism on social media for its handling of the crisis.

Cruise ships become prison hulks

Earlier on Friday, it emerged that infections on board a cruise ship quarantined off the coast of Japan had trebled to 61.

The Diamond Princess is already one of the most potent images of this week’s escalation in the corona virus.

Across the region, the plans of other cruise ships have also been thrown into turmoil, raising questions over whether some passengers will be able to disembark.

The Westerdam will not be allowed to dock in Tokyo, while Taiwan has said it will not allow foreign passengers on the Super Star Aquarius, due back today, to land.

Read more detailed coverage from FT’s reporters in the region here.

Australia’s largest travel agency warns of virus impact on earnings

Jamie Smyth reports from Sydney

Flight Centre, Australia’s largest travel agency, warned on Friday the spread of the coronavirus would make it difficult for the group to achieve its earnings guidance for the 2020 financial year.

Graham Turner, Flight Centre managing director, said on Friday it was too early to predict the virus’s overall impact but revealed it had already adversely affected its corporate travel operations in China, Singapore and Malaysia, which together generated A$625m in transaction value in 2019.

“It is impossible to predict the virus’s impact on our business or on leisure and corporate travel in general at this early stage, but it will impact travel patterns to some degree in the near-term,” he said.

Flight Centre said it had encouraged staff in its China corporate travel business to take leave over the next few weeks, while the outlook remains uncertain. Other businesses could be affected in the upcoming months, such as corporate travel, leisure travel and hotels and resorts, the group said.

Flight Centre said it would be difficult for it to deliver full-year earnings guidance of A$310m to A$350m. The group said its first-half profit before before tax was likely to be slightly above the midpoint of its A$90-110m guidance.

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Chinese official says Hong Kong evacuations would be an “over-reaction”

Sue-Lin Wong reports from Hong Kong

A top Chinese official in Hong Kong said any evacuations of foreign citizens and diplomats from the Asian financial centre due to the coronavirus outbreak would be an “over-reaction.”

Xie Feng, China’s foreign ministry commissioner in Hong Kong, made the comments after US airlines United and American said on Wednesday they were suspending flights to Hong Kong, in a blow to territory.

The United States and Australia are among several countries that have barred entry to foreign nationals flying from mainland China. There are growing concerns for people flying from Hong Kong to other countries that similar restrictions will be implemented.

The commissioner, addressing the territory’s diplomatic corps on Friday, said: “It is our hope that you will assess the outbreak in a science-based and calm manner and avoid overreaction such as evacuation of citizens and diplomats,” noting that the World Health Organization does not recommend the evacuation of citizens from Hong Kong at present.

As the coronavirus spreads to dozens of countries, Mr Xie called the “shocking hatred and violence” directed against some people of Chinese citizenship and descent around the world “lethal.” “The novel coronavirus will be defeated but the virus of discrimination, hatred and racism will have far more devastating impacts if left unchecked.”

Foxconn adds production line for medical face masks

Kathrin Hille reports from Taipei

Apple supplier Foxconn, the world’s largest electronics manufacturer, is building a production line for face masks and expects to have a daily capacity of 2m by the end of the month.

“There is no change in the company’s main business,” Foxconn Industrial, one of the Taiwanese company’s biggest affiliates in China which is normally focused on factory automation, said in a statement to the Shanghai Stock Exchange on Friday. “The addition of a production line for medical face masks is for the purpose to quickly meet the needs of fighting the epidemic based on the local government’s demands against the background of prevention of novel coronavirus pneumonia.”

The company said the mask line at a plant in Shenzhen had started trial production, a revelation which indicates that the Chinese government’s ban on all but essential manufacturers returning to work before next Monday, is being implemented flexibly.
Foxconn Industrial said the masks produced at the new line were intended mainly to protect its own workers against infection, but the company might provide some externally as well later.

Hon Hai, the group’s Taiwan-listed flagship, has refused to provide details to the media on how its factories in China, where it employs roughly 1m people, are affected by the outbreak. It did not communicate the mask production measure to shareholders in Taiwan.

Hong Kong banks plan relief measures for borrowers

Hudson Lockett reports from Hong Kong

Hong Kong banks are planning to roll out temporary relief measures for customers put in difficult straits by the coronavirus, according to the territory’s de facto central bank.

The Hong Kong Monetary Authority said in a letter yesterday that the outbreak was “adversely affecting the Hong Kong economy” and that some banks were considering measures, including principal moratorium for residential and commercial mortgages, fee reduction for credit card borrowing and restructuring of repayment schedules for corporate loans.

The HKMA said it encouraged other banks to follow suit and added that lenders “should adopt a sympathetic stance in dealing with customers facing financial stress due to the novel coronavirus”.

What’s happening on Friday

An update on the latest developments

– Li Wenliang, the doctor who warned of the virus’s outbreak, has died in Wuhan. News of his death first began circulating on Thursday and was confirmed overnight, prompting an outpouring of grief and anger in China. Total deaths from the coronavirus reached 636 on Friday.

– Cases of coronavirus have trebled on a cruise ship that is quarantined off the coast of Japan. The Diamond Princess, which is carrying around 3,700 passengers, now has a total of 61 cases.

– Hong Kong doctors, who say they are dealing with 80 to 90 suspected cases a day, have warned over a shortage of medical equipment. Concerns over Hong Kong and Macau have also risen elsewhere – Taiwan is requiring visitors from the two cities to self-quarantine for 14 days.

Toyota extends shutdown of its plants in China

Kana Inagaki reports from Tokyo

Toyota has extended the shutdown of its plants in China until Feb 16 as the coronavirus outbreak wreaks havoc on global supply chains.

The world’s second-largest carmaker, which has 12 plants in China for cars and vehicle components, said its decision took into account guidelines from local authorities and issues to do with its parts supply and logistics. It had originally hoped to restart operations from Monday.

“We are treating the week starting from Feb 10 as a period for our team to prepare for the return to normal operations from next week and beyond,” the company said in a statement on Friday.

The decision by Toyota came a day after the carmaker said it expected a dent to car sales in China as the spreading epidemic depresses consumer spending.

Rival Fiat Chrysler has also warned that one of its European plants will be forced to halt production in a matter of weeks, as its struggles to source key parts from Chinese suppliers.

S&P says coronavirus will hit Chinese GDP in 2020

S&P on Friday said it expects China GDP growth to slow to 5 per cent in 2020, on the back of the economic impact of the coronavirus.

The rating agency added that it expects “lost ground” to be made up the following year.

It added that it anticipates a “material effect on global growth”:

The global impact will be felt through four real economy channels: sharply reduced tourism revenues, lower exports of consumer and capital goods, lower commodity prices, and industrial supply-chain disruptions. These spillovers could become larger if markets start to price in the risk of a material global slowdown and financial conditions tighten as risk premia rise across asset classes.

In 2019, the Chinese economy grew 6.1 per cent, the lowest rate since 1990.

Hong Kong and Macau citizens required to self-quarantine in Taiwan

Kathrin Hille reports from Taipei

Hong Kong and Macau citizens visiting Taiwan are required to self-quarantine at home for 14 days after entry, as of today.

The move comes alongside heightened worries over those who have passed through Hong Kong and Macau, as well as mainland China.

Foreign nationals who don’t have Taiwan resident status and visited or were residents of mainland China, Hong Kong or Macau in the past 14 days are also not allowed to enter, as of today.

Chinese nationals are currently not allowed to enter Taiwan, in line with measures that took effect late last month.

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Cases of virus treble on quarantined cruise ship in Japan

Robin Harding reports from Tokyo

Japan has found another 41 cases of coronavirus on board the Diamond Princess, a cruise ship in quarantine off Yokohama, bringing the total on the vessel to 61. The cases were found after tests on 273 passengers who either showed symptoms or had close contact with those who did, according to the health ministry.

In total, there are around 3,700 passengers on board the ship. Diagnosed cases of coronavirus are being evacuated to hospitals in the Greater Tokyo area while all the remaining passengers have been asked to quarantine themselves in their cabins for two weeks.

Following criticism for an overly relaxed approach to the new pathogen, prime minister Shinzo Abe vowed to step up Japan’s response, saying yesterday that foreign passengers on board the Westerdam, another cruise ship that was due to visit the country, will not be permitted to disembark.

Hong Kong doctors warn of shortages of protective equipment

Primrose Riordan reports from Hong Kong

Hong Kong doctors who say they are dealing with 80 to 90 suspected cases of coronavirus each day are warning that they could run out of equipment to protect them from the novel coronavirus in as soon as a week’s time, and have accused the local government of missteps in handling the outbreak.

There have been at least 24 confirmed cases and one death in the city linked to the virus. Local authorities have declined calls from medical staff to shut all border crossings with mainland China. Hospital workers began strike action on Monday.

Dr Arisina Ma, the president of the Hong Kong Doctors Association, said due to equipment shortages, the hospital authority had advised that only doctors in “high risk” areas which were dealing with suspected novel coronavirus cases should wear the full suite of medical protective equipment, such as masks, hair nets, and other facial and body coverings.

“Even in the high risk area we worry that supply might run low soon, if we don’t have new supply maybe some of the N95 mask or personal protective equipment may run out in a month’s time or even in a week’s time,” Dr Ma said.

She said private hospitals have stopped taking any suspected cases of the virus, and were redirecting people to public hospitals, which are already under pressure.

Hong Kong authorities announced this week they would shut some border crossings with mainland China and that people coming across the border would be quarantined for 14 days from Saturday.

Dr Ma said the Hong Kong government missed a chance to limit the spread of the virus by implementing border controls and now it was not clear how the quarantine would work.

“I have no idea where the government can find quarantine facilities,” Dr Ma said.

Chinese whistleblower doctor dies after coronavirus infection

Li Wenliang, the Chinese doctor who became a hero to millions for raising the alarm over the coronavirus epidemic, died after he became infected with the virus.

Li shot to fame when he warned fellow medics in an online chat group in December that seven new pneumonia cases had been identified. His comments were shared on Weibo with the hashtag “Wuhan SARS” before the posts were scrubbed by censors. He was then accused of “rumour mongering” by Chinese authorities as they scrambled to downplay the outbreak.

Read our full coverage of Li Wenliang

Death toll hits 636 in China

The number of deaths in China from novel coronavirus rose to 636 as of the end of Thursday, Chinese health authorities announced.

China has confirmed 31,161 cases of the virus.

Melco shelves Crown share purchase over coronavirus

Jamie Smyth reports from Sydney

Melco Resorts and Entertainment, the Hong-Kong-listed casino company, has abandoned plans to raise its stake in Australian rival Crown Resorts to 19.99 per cent over the significant hit to its business from the coronavirus.

Melco, which is controlled by Lawrence Ho, said it would reassess all its non-core investments in light of the severe drop in tourism in Asia to integrated resorts facilities following the outbreak of the virus, which has temporarily closed all casinos in Macau.

“As a result of this decision, Melco will not pursue its planned investment in Australia for the second tranche of shares in Crown Resorts Limited (“Crown”) … at this time, its capital needs to be deployed on its core assets,” said Melco in a statement.

In May, Melco announced it would spend A$1.76bn ($1.2bn) on a 19.99 per cent stake in Crown, which is controlled by Australian billionaire James Packer, a former business associate of Mr Ho. The Hong-Kong listed casino operator has already acquired an initial 10 per cent stake in Crown but the remaining shares have not changed hands as Australian authorities have initiated a probity investigation into Crown and the intended share sale to Melco.

Shares in Macau casino operators have fallen sharply since the territory ordered the temporary closure of all resorts due to the coronavirus.