Iran Cases Raise Concern; Air Conference Canceled: Virus Update
Employees wearing protective masks walk along a platform at Fo Tan Station, operated by MTR Corp., in Hong Kong, China. (Photographer: May James/Bloomberg)  

Iran Cases Raise Concern; Air Conference Canceled: Virus Update

(Bloomberg) -- A jump in coronavirus cases in Iran is a cause for concern because they have no direct link to China, the World Health Organization said. The outbreak also accelerated in South Korea and Italy. A new study estimated that two-thirds of cases exported from China have gone undetected worldwide.

China adjusted the number of cases for the third time this month, raising more questions over the reliability of the data even as new cases decline. An aviation conference scheduled for May in Hong Kong was canceled.

South Korea reported 48 more cases, taking the total number to 204. Neighboring Japan is also seeing outbreaks in several unconnected areas. Singapore reported recoveries outpacing new cases. U.S. equities dropped on Friday along with shares across most of Asia and Europe. The European Central Bank’s chief economist said he expects the euro-area economy to bounce back from the coronavirus outbreak.

Key Developments

  • South Korea, Italy, Israel, Iran confirm more cases
  • Singapore says recoveries outpace new infections
  • China cases rise to 75,465, with 2,236 fatalities
  • Japan economic activity contracting sharply as virus hits

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

Iran Cases Raise Concern; Air Conference Canceled: Virus Update

Hong Kong Aviation Conference Canceled (1:40 p.m. NY)

The trade group for companies that build, trade and finance aircraft is canceling it’s annual Asia-based convention scheduled for May in Hong Kong, a worrying acknowledgment of the sharp impact the coronavirus has had on air travel in the region.

“Holding an event in the region anytime in the near future did not seem prudent,” Gerry Butler, president of the International Society of Transport Aircraft Trading, wrote in a communique to the trade group’s 5,000 members on Friday.

Italy Raises Number of Cases to 17 (1:20 p.m. NY)

Italy reported 14 new coronavirus cases Friday, including the country’s first locally transmitted infection. That brings the total cases in the country to 17, with local media reporting that at least two more suspected patients have been hospitalized.

(Updates entry from 9:48 a.m.)

Iran Cases Cause for Concern, WHO Says (11:30 a.m. NY)

A cluster of cases in Iran and the first positive test in Lebanon
are of particular concern because they don’t have a direct tie to China, the head of the World Health Organization said on Friday.

The WHO confirmed that there have been 18 coronavirus cases in Iran, and four deaths. That’s a mortality rate of more than 20%.

“The cases that we see that are not linked to China are very worrisome,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters at a press briefing in Geneva. The window of opportunity to stop the spread in countries outside China is “really narrowing,” he said. “This outbreak could go in any direction.”

There was one case reported in Lebanon on Friday, which is linked to Iran. Asked if the WHO was getting the information it needs from Iranian authorities, Tedros said, “We’re getting information from them, but we have to engage them even more.”

The concern in Iran “is that we’re seeing a very rapid increase in a matter of
days,” said Sylvie Briand, director of global infectious hazard
preparedness at the WHO.

Risk of Undetected Cases Outside China (10:56 a.m. NY)

About two-thirds of coronavirus cases exported from mainland China have gone undetected worldwide, potentially leaving sources of human-to-human transmission unchecked, Sangeeta Bhatia, Neil Ferguson and colleagues at Imperial College London said in study estimating potential spread of the virus.

The new estimate uses air-travel data and an analysis of data from eight countries to determine the expected numbers of exported cases from China. They found only 156 cases had been reported, compared with an expected 426 to 577, suggesting a large number of patients outside China who haven’t been diagnosed.

“Undoubtedly, the exported cases vary in the severity of their clinical symptoms, making some cases more difficult to detect than others,” the researchers said. “However, some countries have detected significantly fewer than would have been expected based on the volume of flight passengers arriving from Wuhan City, China.”

Wuhan is the center of the outbreak.

U.A.E., Lebanon, Iran Add Cases as Mideast Worry Rises (10:03 a.m. NY)

Several countries across the Middle East confirmed new cases of the coronavirus, prompting worries about the potential for the disease to spread in the region.

The United Arab Emirates on Friday reported two new cases of the virus, bringing its total count to 11. Lebanon’s health minister confirmed the country’s first coronavirus patient, a 45-year-old woman who had arrived on a flight from Iran, and said authorities suspected two other cases. He cautioned those recently arriving from Iran to remain at home for two weeks.

Iran also announced 13 new cases of the coronavirus, mainly in the city Qom where several cases were reported two days earlier, but also in the capital, Tehran, and a northern province. So far, four people in Iran have died and 18 have been confirmed infected, the health ministry said, as schools across the country announce closures in an effort to curb the disease.

Turkey’s health minister said all passengers from Iran will undergo medical checks, while Bahrain has issued an advisory against travel to Iran.

Italy Reports Six New Cases in First Local Transmission (9:48 a.m. NY)

Italy’s Lombardy region reported six new coronavirus cases Friday, including the country’s first locally transmitted infections. There are now nine total cases in the country.

The new cases were found in the small towns of Castiglione d’Adda and Codogno. The region’s health secretary, Giulio Gallera, said at a press conference in Milan that the infected include a 38-year-old man, his wife and a close friend. The man, who is in intensive care, had come into contact with a person that had returned from China Jan. 21. Local authorities haven’t yet confirmed how the three other people had been infected.

As many as 150 people who had contacts with the 38-year-old man are being tested and the region is advising some 20,000 inhabitants of Castiglione d’Adda and Codogno to stay indoors and avoid social contacts “on a precautionary basis.”

Italy’s health ministry announced that all people who have been in close contact with the new cases will be forced into quarantine, and all returnees from risk areas of China will be actively monitored.

Kudlow Says Little Impact on U.S. So Far (9:28 a.m. NY)

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said the coronavirus has so far had little impact on the U.S., where only a handful of cases have been identified and local transmission has been limited to a few close contacts of patients.

“I understand these things could change quickly. But right now, what we know, is there’s barely any impact here at home. Regrettably, both in human and economic terms, the biggest impact is China,” Kudlow told reporters at the White House Friday.

He said there had been signs of the outbreak affecting bond markets, after the yield on 10-year treasuries fell below 1.5%.

“I think it’s still got a lot of coronavirus in it -- a rush to safety. I don’t want to make a market forecast here, but before the virus hit in force, it was moving toward 2%,” Kudlow said.

European Central Bank Predicts Rebound From Virus (8:49 a.m. NY)

The European Central Bank expects the euro-area economy to bounce back from the coronavirus outbreak, Chief Economist Philip Lane said Friday, playing down concerns that the 19-nation region is slipping into a long-term downturn that could require another interest-rate cut.

Speaking in an interview with Bloomberg TV in New York, Lane acknowledged that the epidemic is “a big headache” right now, and that it remains a downside risk until it is contained.

Read the full report here.

China’s Boao Forum for Asia Has Been Postponed, SCMP Says (7:42 a.m. NY)

The annual Boao Forum for Asia, which was expected to be held March 24-27, was postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak, SCMP reported, citing unidentified people familiar with the matter.

Fed’s Bullard Says Likely That Virus Impact to ‘Blow Over’ (7:40 a.m. NY)

Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis President James Bullard, speaking in a CNBC interview, said markets are pricing in an interest rate cut this year by averaging the most likely outcome from the coronavirus: little damage to the U.S. economy with a remote chance of a serious and long-lasting impact.

“There’s a high probability that the coronavirus will blow over, as other viruses have, be a temporary shock and everything will come back,” Bullard said.

Singapore Virus Recoveries Outpace New Cases (7:23 a.m. NY)

Singapore discharged 10 coronavirus cases, bringing the total number of those who have fully recovered to 47, according to the Ministry of Health. The additional recoveries mean that more than half of the country’s total confirmed cases have now been discharged from hospital.

Hong Kong Police Officer Preliminarily Tested Positive for Virus (6:48 a.m. NY)

A 48-year-old male police officer preliminarily tested positive for the coronavirus on Feb. 20, the Hong Kong government said in a statement.

Israel Confirms Coronavirus Case in Passengers Back From Ship (6:45 a.m. NY)

An Israeli passenger who returned from the Diamond Princess cruise ship tested positive for the disease, according to Israel’s Ministry of Health. The patient is being kept in quarantine, while other returning passengers didn’t test positive.

China Hasn’t Seen Turning Point On Coronavirus Epidemic: CCTV (6:39 a.m. NY)

The outbreak has been tentatively contained but hasn’t reached a turning point yet, according to China Central Television, which cited a politburo meeting. The politburo said that monetary policy needs to be more flexible and fiscal policy more proactive.

Virus containment in Hubei, the epicenter, is still “rigorous and complicated” and the nation’s long-term economic outlook is still positive even though the virus has made a substantial impact, the TV station reported.

Iran Cases Raise Concern; Air Conference Canceled: Virus Update

Iran Says 13 New Cases of Coronavirus, Killing Two (6:08 a.m. NY)

At least 13 more people in Iran have been infected with coronavirus, of which two have died, the semi-official Mehr news agency reported. In total, four people in Iran are said to have died as a result of the virus.

Conte Says 3 New Virus Cases in Italy, Orders Quarantine (6:54 p.m. HK)

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte told reporters that three new cases were found in the northern region of Lombardy and “we have ordered compulsory quarantine for all those who were in contact with the patients.”

Nomura to Ban Travel to Countries With Coronavirus Infections (5:20 p.m. HK)

The company told employees to refrain from all unnecessary travel to infected areas, from Feb. 24.

German Economy Faces Coronavirus Hit (4:50 p.m. HK)

Germany’s economy is facing renewed pressure from beyond its borders as export orders plunge and manufacturers worry about the impact of the outbreak on their supply chains.

Five Prisons in 3 Chinese Provinces Report Cases (3:50 p.m. HK)

Five prisons in China’s Hubei, Shandong and Zhejiang provinces have reported prisoner infections as of Thursday, He Ping, an official at the Ministry of Justice, said at a briefing.

No deaths have been reported yet from the prison outbreaks.

Iran Cases Raise Concern; Air Conference Canceled: Virus Update

China Ambassador to Moscow Sees Virus ‘Liquidated’ in March: Tass (3:48 pm. HK)

China may “liquidate” the novel Coronavirus on its territory by the end of March, according to Beijing’s ambassador to Russia.

“We can win a total victory over this virus,” Zhang Hanhui said at a meeting Friday with Ivan Melnikov, first deputy speaker of the lower house of Russia’s parliament, according to the official Tass news agency. “Outside the Hubei Province, in other regions, we can win this victory in the course of this month.”

“In the center of the epidemic, it’s possible we will completely liquidate this virus on the territory of China in the course of next month,” Tass quoted him as saying.

Hubei Revises Up New Cases to 631 From 411 (12:51 p.m. HK)

Hubei, the province at the heart of the outbreak, revised the number of additional coronavirus cases for Feb. 20 to 631 from 411, after adding 220 from a prison, Hubei’s health commission said in a statement. The total case count in the province is 62,662.

This is the third time Hubei has had to adjust its numbers over the past week, leading to concern about the reliability of the data.

MGM China Seeks to Relax Debt Covenants (12:32 p.m. HK)

MGM China Holdings Ltd. wants banks to ease financial covenants tied to a HK$9.75 billion ($1.25 billion) loan after the temporary closure of casinos in Macau amid the virus outbreak hurt business, according to people familiar with the matter.

Macau casinos have been reeling from the unprecedented closure of their operations for 15 days to curb the spread of the virus. MGM Resorts International this month withdrew its earnings forecast for 2020, citing the impact of the virus on its casinos in Macau and Las Vegas. A Bloomberg Intelligence index of Macau casino operators’ shares slumped on Friday.

Read more here.

China Plans Bigger Trial for Anti-Malaria Drug (11:33 a.m. HK)

China is planning a bigger trial for anti-malaria drug chloroquine phosphate after clinical trials in Beijing and Guangdong Province showed initial positive results for 135 patients in treating the virus.

A stem-cell therapy that has so far cured four patients with severe cases of the virus is also under development, said Xu Nanping, vice minister at the Ministry of Science and Technology.

A clinical trial spanning 10 hospitals in Wuhan for Gilead Sciences Inc.’s experimental drug remdesivir is still underway.

Iran Cases Raise Concern; Air Conference Canceled: Virus Update

China Car Sales Fall 92% on Virus Impact (11:10 a.m. HK)

Car sales in China plunged 92% during the first two weeks of February because of the virus outbreak, the China Passenger Car Association said in a report.

China Shandong Province Finds 200 Cases in Prison (10:37 a.m. HK)

The eastern Chinese province of Shandong reported 202 new cases as of Thursday, of which 200 were found in Rencheng prison. Local officials including the head of the Shandong provincial justice department have been removed from their posts.

Japan Economic Activity Contracting Sharply on Virus (10:20 a.m. HK)

Japanese economic activity, hit by the coronavirus, has been contracting so far in February, PMI data show, adding to evidence the country has slipped into recession.

Activity in the manufacturing sector hit its lowest level in more than seven years in February, according to Jibun Bank Japan Manufacturing Purchasing Managers Index. The reading slipped to 47.6, while an index for the service sector plunged back into contractionary territory with a sharp fall to 46.7.

Over 1,000 to Have Left Virus-Hit Cruise Ship by End of Day (10:04 a.m. HK)

More than 1,000 passengers will have left the Diamond Princess cruise ship by the end of Friday, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters in Tokyo.

Almost 720 passengers who tested negative for the virus left the liner in the last two days, while more than 400 will depart today, he said. Some 759 foreign nationals who were onboard have left Japan, while about 1,000 people will remain on the ship.

Earlier, two people evacuated to Australia from the cruise ship tested positive for the virus. Japan is allowing guests to leave the vessel, quarantined in Yokohama for 14 days, despite worries the country hasn’t done enough to prevent the spread of disease from the ship.

China Adds 889 Cases, Bringing Total to 75,465 (9:27 a.m. HK)

China reported 889 additional coronavirus cases by the end of Feb. 20, taking the total case count to 75,465, according to a statement from the National Health Commission. The total number of deaths increased by 118 to 2,236.

Earlier, Hubei province, the epicenter of the outbreak, reported 411 additional cases, but the NHC said Hubei had 631 new cases.

Two in Australia From Japan Cruise Ship Test Positive (8:06 a.m. HK)

Two people evacuated to Australia from the Diamond Princess cruise ship have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to the Northern Territory Department of Health. Six people were isolated yesterday after presenting minor symptoms on arrival at Darwin airport, Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported.

South Korea to Ban Vacations for Military Personnel (7:20 a.m. HK)

South Korea’s defense ministry will limit vacations, outside trips and visits by citizens for all military personnel, Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported. A Navy sailor in Jeju Island was confirmed to have contracted the coronavirus in the first confirmed case among service personnel, Yonhap reported earlier.

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