Head of Wuhan hospital dies of virus; toll now 1.8K

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    BEIJING/SHANGHAI. — The head of a leading hospital in China’s central city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, died of the disease on Tuesday as Apple Inc. warned its sales would suffer because of the epidemic, casting a chill on global stock markets.

    Chinese state television said Liu Zhiming, the director of Wuhan Wuchang Hospital, died at 10:30 a.m., the seventh health worker to fall victim. The hospital was designated to solely treat virus-infected patients.

    The number of new coronavirus cases in mainland China fell below 2,000 for the first time since January but the virus remains far from contained.

    The total death toll in China has climbed to 1,868, the National Health Commission said.

    There were 1,886 new confirmed infections, for a total of 72,436.

    China’s lockdown of cities and tough curbs on travel and movement have limited the spread of the virus outside the epicenter, but at great cost to the economy and global business.

    More than two dozen trade fairs and industry conferences have been postponed because of travel curbs and concerns about the spread of the virus, potentially disrupting deals worth billions of dollars.

    Apple became the latest company to warn of trouble, saying it would not meet its guidance for March-quarter revenue because of slower iPhone production and weaker demand in China.

    Asian shares fell and Wall Street was poised to retreat from record highs on Tuesday after the news.

    South Korean President Moon Jae-in said the economy was in an emergency situation and required stimulus as the epidemic had disrupted demand for South Korean goods.

    Singapore announced a $4.5-billion financial package to help contain the outbreak in the city-state and weather its economic impact.

    In Hong Kong, leader Carrie Lam said the government would increase handouts to tackle the outbreak to HK$28 billion ($3.60 billion) from HK$25 billion, as it strives to ease the impact on the Chinese-ruled city’s protest-battered economy.

    Singapore Airlines Ltd said it would temporarily cut flights in the three months to May, as the epidemic hits demand for services touching and transiting the key travel hub.

    As global businesses sought to limit exposure to the virus, health authorities around the world searched for medical weapons.

    The president of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China, Joerg Wuttke, said the world’s pharmacies may face a shortage of antibiotics and other drugs if the outbreak cannot be resolved soon, and accused Beijing of making supply-chain problems worse.

    Japan announced plans to use HIV drugs to combat the virus as a growing number of cases posed an increasing threat to the world’s third-largest economy, as well as public health. With 520, Japan has the most cases outside China.

    With Japan’s economy contracting, raising the risk of a recession, the spread of the virus has prompted Tokyo to put limits on public crowds while some companies are telling employees to work from home.

    INTERPRET CAUTIOUSLY

    The number of new daily infections in mainland China had not been below 2,000 since Jan. 30, while the daily death toll had not fallen below 100 since Feb. 11.

    Outside China, there are 827 cases in 26 countries and regions and five deaths, according to a Reuters count based on official statements.

    Chinese authorities say the stabilization in the number of new cases is a sign that measures they have taken to halt the spread of the disease are having an effect.

    Global health authorities had to keep on guard against a wider outbreak, said Jimmy Whitworth, a professor of international public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

    “We can hope that the reports of falling numbers of new cases in China do show that the epidemic has peaked in Hubei province, but it is still too early to be sure,” he said, referring to the central province where the outbreak began.

    World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Chinese data “appear to show a decline in new cases” but any apparent trend “must be interpreted very cautiously.”

    JAPANESE DRUG TRIALS

    TOKYO. – Japan plans to trial HIV medications to treat patients infected with coronavirus as its growing number of cases poses an increasing threat to the economy and public health, the government’s top spokesman said on Tuesday.

    The government was making “preparations so that clinical trials using HIV medication on the novel coronavirus can start as soon as possible,” Yoshihide Suga told a briefing, but added he could not say how long a new drug would take to be approved.

    Japan had 520 confirmed infections by Monday, including 454 cases from the Diamond Princess cruise ship quarantined off the port of Yokohama, the health ministry said, with one death from the virus.

    On Tuesday, there were three more cases confirmed with the virus in Wakayama Prefecture, local media reported.

    As the contracting economy fuels a risk of recession, the spread of the virus has prompted Tokyo to put limits on the size of public gatherings while some companies are telling employees to work from home.

    The HIV trials come as those drugs have been touted as a potential cure for the coronavirus around the world. With no therapy yet proven 100% effective, the epidemic has killed close to 1,900 people in mainland China.

    People in China have begun exploring unorthodox ways to get treated, with some appealing to HIV patients and unauthorised importers for medicine.

    In Thailand, doctors said they appeared to have had some success in treating severe cases of the virus with a combination of medications for flu and HIV.

    As demand for masks skyrockets, police are investigating a theft of 6,000 surgical masks reported by the Kobe Red Cross Hospital in the central Japanese city, a hospital official told Reuters.

    Japanese officials have vowed to work hard to avoid disruptions to the Olympic Games, which start in Tokyo in July. But growing concern over the virus spurred Mongolia’s Olympics archery team to cancel training in Japan, the Kyodo news agency said.

    CRUISE SHIP VACUATIONS

    On Monday, US government evacuation flights flew home more than 300 Americans who had been on the Diamond Princess cruise ship.

    With more than 3,000 passengers and crew, the ship has been in quarantine since early this month, after a passenger who had left it in Hong Kong was diagnosed with the virus.

    About half of those aboard are Japanese and the rest foreign nationals, many of whom have expressed frustration over the quarantine.

    The liner will receive meals from World Central Kitchen, a non-profit set up by celebrity chef Jose Andres, in a bid to reduce the burden on crew, said Rai Caluori, vice president of vessel operator Princess Cruises.

    Foreign governments including Australia, Canada, Italy and South Korea also plan to take citizens off the cruise liner.

    A plane chartered by the Canadian government has left for Japan to evacuate its nationals, TV Asahi said. Canada has said 14 days of quarantine await them on their return.

    South Korea is also sending a government charter flight on Tuesday to take home four citizens, and a Japanese spouse, who have no symptoms, a South Korean official said.

    Japanese who test negative will begin disembarking as early as Wednesday, health minister Katsunobu Kato said.

    GLOBAL DRUG SUPPLIES

    BEIJING. – The world’s pharmacies may face a shortage of antibiotics and other drugs if supply problems from China’s coronavirus outbreak cannot soon be resolved, the head of a European business group in China warned on Tuesday.

    EU Chamber of Commerce President Joerg Wuttke added that Beijing was making supply chain problems worse with a mandatory quarantine of arrivals from abroad as it battles the virus, which has killed more than 1,800 Chinese mainly in the central province of Hubei.

    Chinese media reported on Friday that the capital is requiring a 14 -ay quarantine for all arrivals, which Wuttke said would make it difficult to fly in technical experts to help if facilities are down.

    Calling the measure unreasonable and against WHO guidelines, he told a roundtable in Beijing it would “cause more harm to business than many of the other things.”