Global Cases Top 80,000; CDC Warns on Korea: Virus Update

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The spread of the coronavirus outbreak to regions from Italy to Iran sparked concerns about a pandemic, with the number of cases worldwide topping 80,000.

Global stocks tumbled after Italy reported at least six deaths and more than 200 confirmed cases. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Americans to avoid non-essential travel to South Korea. The North Asian nation reported another 60 cases, bringing its total number of infections to 893.

China’s death toll rose to 2,663, an increase of 71. Total coronavirus cases on the mainland climbed to 77,658 as Hubei province reported 499 additional infections.

While the head of the World Health Organization called the new cases “deeply concerning,” he said the outbreak isn’t yet a pandemic. The WHO also said that Gilead Sciences Inc.’s experimental drug that is being tested for coronavirus may be the only one that will work.

Key Developments

  • LATEST: China death toll 2,663, up 71; total mainland cases at 77,658
  • Hubei province reports 68 additional deaths, and 499 new cases
  • Stock slump extends to Asia, while Treasuries, the yen and gold surge
  • Afghanistan, Bahrain, Kuwait confirm first cases; At least 12 dead in Iran

Click VRUS on the terminal for news and data on the coronavirus and here for maps and charts. For analysis of the impact from Bloomberg Economics, click here.

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Japan to Recommend Fujifilm’s Avigan Drug (8:19 a.m. HK)

Fujifilm Holdings Corp. rose as much as 8.8% on Tuesday after Japan’s health minister said the country plans to recommend its Avigan drug to treat coronavirus.

Avigan, an anti-influenza medication developed by Fujifilm and Toyama Chemical Co., has previously been used to treat Ebola. A test dosage showed effects in mild and asymptomatic patients, Yomiuri reported last week. China’s National Health Commission is also studying the efficacy of Avigan.

CDC Warns Americans on Korean Travel (8:05 a.m. HK)

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Americans to avoid all non-essential travel to South Korea as the novel coronavirus is spreading widely throughout the community there.

Older adults and people with chronic medical conditions may be at increased risk from the pathogen, and there is limited access to adequate medical care in affected areas, the agency said. The level 3 warning, the CDC’s highest, matches the caution it previously placed on China.

The CDC previously issued lower-level alerts for Italy, Iran and Japan, telling travelers to take extra care and consider postponing non-essential travel.

Singapore Air to Cut More Flights (7:59 a.m. HK)

Singapore Airlines will make more temporary adjustments to flights across its network due to weak demand because of the coronavirus outbreak, the company says on its website. The adjustments will result in a 7.1% reduction in scheduled capacity from February to the end of May.

South Korea’s Consumer Confidence Plummets (7:02 a.m. HK)

South Korea’s consumer confidence plunged the most in five years as coronavirus spreads quickly in the country, blunting the momentum toward economic recovery.

The index slid 7.3 points in February to 96.9. The fall is the largest since June 2015, when another type of coronavirus — Middle East Respiratory Syndrome — hit the Korean economy.

The number of coronavirus cases in South Korea soared over the past week, rising from just dozens to more than 800, making it the most-infected country outside China. President Moon Jae-in has raised the infectious-disease alert to the highest level for the first time since 2009.

United Abandons Outlook, Mastercard Cuts Forecast (6:58 a.m. HK)

United Airlines Holdings Inc. withdrew its 2020 profit forecast, citing the financial impact of the coronavirus outbreak. The uncertainty surrounding the virus means United can’t guarantee its earlier goal of earning $11 to $13 a share this year, according to a company statement Monday.

If the outbreak runs its course by mid-May and travel patterns return to normal in the coming months, the earnings target is still within reach, United said.

The airline’s caution underscores the worsening financial drag as the spread of the new coronavirus stymies global travel.

Separately, Mastercard Inc. lowered its forecast for revenue growth in the first quarter as the coronavirus curbs international travel.

U.S. Cases Now at 53, CDC Says (2:30 p.m. NY)

There are now 53 people in the U.S. with the novel coronavirus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday

The American cases include 12 people who tested positive for the condition known as Covid-19 after traveling to areas where the virus is spreading widely. Additionally, two spouses of people in that group contracted it from direct human-to-human transmission.

Three others were diagnosed after being repatriated from Wuhan, China, the outbreak’s epicenter, on State Department flights, while 36 had previously been aboard the contaminated Diamond Princess cruise ship.

Games in Japan, South Korea Postponed (11:35 a.m. NY)

The Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association postponed a three-game series in Japan as a result of the virus. A collection of North American players was scheduled to spend a week in Japan and play three exhibitions against the Japanese national team in Tokyo. The teams are hoping to reschedule for later this year or early next year.

Elsewhere, the Overwatch League, a competitive video-gaming circuit operated by Activision Blizzard Inc. canceled three weeks of matches in South Korea, including home games for its Seoul Dynasty franchise. The league said the events will be rescheduled, and possibly relocated, for a different date.

Virus Not Yet a Pandemic, WHO Chief Says (10:25 a.m. NY)

The increase in the number of cases in Italy, Iran and South Korea is “deeply concerning,” the head of the World Health Organization said at a press briefing in Geneva.

Countries need to do everything they can to prepare for a potential pandemic, Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. The disease hasn’t reached that stage, which is defined by an uncontrollable geographical spread.

Outbreak Could Reach Germany, Health Minister Says (9:35 a.m. NY)

The coronavirus outbreak in northern Italy shows that the virus “can also spread in Germany,” German Health Minister Jens Spahn said in Berlin.

While the virus may become a global pandemic, Germany is very well-prepared because its health system is one of the best in the world, Spahn said.

White House’s Philipson Says Virus ‘Real Threat’ (9:35 a.m. NY)

The Trump administration’s top economist called the coronavirus a “real threat” this year, but said it’s too early to tell how seriously it will affect the U.S. economy.

Tomas Philipson, the acting director of the Council of Economic Advisers, said that at the moment seasonal flu has a greater impact in the U.S. He said the White House will continue to monitor the outbreak.

WHO Says Gilead’s Remdesivir May Be Only Drug for Virus (8 a.m. NY)

Gilead’s experimental drug may be the best bet to find a treatment for the new coronavirus, Bruce Aylward, an assistant director-general at the World Health Organization, said at a briefing in Beijing.

Gilead’s compound, remdesivir, has been rushed into a clinical trial in China. WHO officials have said results could be available within weeks.

WHO Says China Lockdown Blunted New Epidemic (7:36 a.m. NY)

China’s unprecedented lockdown and restrictions may have blunted the coronavirus’s spread and averted hundreds of thousands of cases, according to a team of medical experts that visited the outbreak’s epicenter last week. Fewer patients are crowding hospitals in Wuhan and are consulting doctors for fevers, Bruce Aylward, an assistant director-general at the World Health Organization, said in Beijing.

But the outbreak could gain ground again as schools reopen and work resumes, Aylward warned. More broadly, he called for China’s experience in turning around the outbreak to help battle the virus elsewhere.

Hong Kong Issues ‘Red’ Travel Alert on South Korea (7:36 a.m. NY)

Hong Kong urged public planning to travel to South Korea to adjust their travel plans and avoid non-essential travel, according to a statement on Monday. It will stop non-residents from entering from South Korea starting Tuesday, local broadcaster Now TV said.

— With assistance by Michelle Cortez

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