SHANGHAI/BEIJING. — Ten more people on a quarantined cruise liner in Japan have tested positive for coronavirus, officials said on Thursday, as health experts stepped up efforts to find a vaccine for a disease that has provoked fears of a global pandemic.
The death toll from the virus in mainland China jumped by 73 to 563, with more than 28,000 confirmed infections there.
Financial analysts have cut their growth outlook for the world’s second-largest economy, with ratings agency Moody’s pointing to a risk to auto sales and production.
But global stocks extended their recovery, cheered by record closes in Wall Street benchmarks following encouraging economic data and China’s announcement of a tariff cut on some imports from the United States, which analysts saw as a move to boost confidence.
The virus has shut down cities and factories in China and disrupted global air travel. This week, it brought chaos to the sedate world of luxury ocean cruises.
About 3,700 people on Carnival’s Diamond Princess, docked off a Japanese port, face quarantine for at least two weeks on the ship, which has 20 virus cases, with testing continuing. Japan now has 45 virus cases.
Gay Courter, a 75-year-old American novelist on the ship, said he hoped the US government would send transport to take the Americans off.
“It’s better for us to travel while healthy and also if we get sick to be treated in American hospitals,” he told Reuters.
In Hong Kong, a cruise ship with 3,600 passengers and crew was quarantined for a second day pending testing after three positive cases on board.
Taiwan, which has 13 cases, banned international cruise ships from docking.
Several countries, including the United States, have banned entry to visitors who have been in China over the previous two weeks.
News of another virus hot spot emerged, linked to a mid-January company meeting in Singapore. At least three people caught the disease after a conference held with 94 overseas staff, including one from China’s central city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the epidemic.
Authorities have not identified the company, but the World Health Organization (WHO) said it was investigating.
Singapore has reported 28 infections, some involving person-to-person transmission, a feature the WHO has said is deeply concerning and could signal a much larger outbreak.
Health officials in the United States and China have set ambitious goals for getting a vaccine to initial human testing within the next few months, although drugmakers cautioned that they have a long way to go.
“There are no known effective therapeutics,” WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said, when asked about reports of drug “breakthroughs” that boosted financial markets on Wednesday.
Hundreds of experts will gather in Geneva on Feb. 11-12 to try and find a way to battle the outbreak by speeding research into drugs and vaccines, the WHO said, adding that a multinational WHO-led team would also visit China.
Most of those infected recover quickly with only mild symptoms but the virus can lead to severe respiratory illnesses. It is too early to know how lethal it may be, as many mild cases are probably going undetected.
SHUT AND SEALED
Tens of millions of people in China’s Hubei province, the capital of which is Wuhan, have been living under virtual lockdown for nearly two weeks, with train stations and airports shut and roads sealed off.
Hubei reported 70 new deaths on Wednesday and 2,987 new confirmed cases, for more than 80% of China’s total.
National health officials said 3,694 cases were reported throughout China on Wednesday, the first day in more than a week to see a fall in new daily cases. They did not say why.
At a briefing in Shanghai, a mental health official, asked how people could avoid stress over the outbreak, said they should not watch too much news but enjoy television soap operas instead: “That could help people relieve their anxiety,” said the official, Xie Bin.
First identified in Wuhan, the flu-like virus is believed to have originated at a city market selling wild animals.
The two deaths outside mainland China, in the Philippines and Hong Kong, have both involved visits to Wuhan, where more than 400 people have died.
Nearly 260 cases have been reported in 31 countries and regions outside mainland China, according to a Reuters tally.
More than two dozen airlines have suspended or restricted flights to China and hundreds of foreigners have been evacuated from Wuhan and placed in quarantine around the world.
China, which has bristled at some measures to close borders to its travellers, was considering delaying an annual meeting of its top legislative body set, from March 5, people familiar with the matter said.
“The situation doesn’t look likely to be contained by March,” a government official told Reuters.
The virus is also stirring animosity in the decades-old dispute between Taiwan and Beijing, with the island complaining that China is providing the WHO with wrong information about Taiwan’s cases.
Taiwan is not a WHO member because of China’s objections. The United States urged the agency to deal directly with the island’s health authorities.
WHO CONVENING EXPERTS
GENEVA. – Hundreds of experts will meet in Geneva next Tuesday and Wednesday to set research and development priorities for coronavirus drugs, diagnostics and vaccines to combat the outbreak, the WHO said on Wednesday.
“There are no proven effective therapeutics for novel coronavirus,” Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of WHO emergencies program, told a news conference.
WHO epidemiologist Dr. Maria van Kerkhove said participants would include experts in clinical investigations and research into an animal source of the virus which emerged at a market in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.
“We want to bring the best minds, people who have experience in this so come around a comprehensive research agenda around coronavirus,” she said.
WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said a multinational WHO-led team would go to China very soon to work with Chinese authorities in tackling the outbreak. He gave no details.
FEEDING WRONG INFO?
TAIPEI. – China is providing the WHO with wrong information about the number of coronavirus cases in Taiwan, the island’s foreign ministry said on Thursday, after the WHO published incorrect case numbers earlier this week.
Taiwan is not a WHO member because of China’s objections. Beijing says the island is a wayward Chinese province and not a country and is adequately represented in the organisation by China.
Democratically governed Taiwan says it is an independent country called the Republic of China – its formal name – and has never been part of the People’s Republic of China.
On Tuesday, the WHO corrected the number of cases reported on the island after having said there were 13. At the time Taiwan had only 10. Taiwan said on Thursday there were now 13 cases, compared to more than 28,000 in China.
Speaking at a news conference, Taiwan Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Joanne Ou said the crux of the problem was China giving the wrong case number details to the WHO.
“This was wrong information that was provided by China which created the mistake,” she said.
SINGAPORE GAB PROBED
SINGAPORE. – At least three employees of a multinational company that held a meeting of more than 100 international staff in Singapore have contracted the new coronavirus, sparking a WHO investigation of the case.
Malaysia and South Korea have confirmed three cases of the virus related to the mid-January company meeting held with 94 overseas staff at the Grand Hyatt hotel, and Singapore said late on Wednesday four other attendees were showing symptoms.
Authorities have not revealed the name of the company that held the meeting or said what business it is involved in.
Malaysian health authorities have said people from China including one from the city of Wuhan, where the virus emerged in December, attended.
Another group of nearly 350 Americans airlifted from the epicenter of China’s fast-spreading coronavirus outbreak were placed under quarantine at two military bases in California on Wednesday, as the number of confirmed US cases of the disease rose to 12.
The travelers aboard two State Department-chartered cargo jets were met by personnel from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for screening, and are to remain under mandatory quarantine for 14 days, the incubation period of the virus.
Five of the passengers arrived exhibiting possible symptoms, two of them children, and were immediately hospitalized, along with the mother of one of the youngsters, the CDC said.
The latest evacuees, together with 195 Americans flown out of Wuhan, China, a week ago by the US government, bring to 540 the number people subject so far to the CDC’s first public health quarantine in 50 years. Wuhan, in China’s Hubei province, is the epicenter of the disease.