WHO Declares Emergency; Cruise Passengers Cleared: Virus Update
Medical workers in protective gear transport a patient believed to be a confirmed case of the Wuhan coronavirus, also known as 2019-nCoV, at Queen Mary Hospital in Hong Kong, China. (Photographer: Justin Chin/Bloomberg)  

WHO Declares Emergency; Cruise Passengers Cleared: Virus Update

(Bloomberg) -- The World Health Organization called the outbreak of coronavirus in China a global health emergency, citing the risk that the sometimes-deadly virus could expand to other countries beyond the smattering of cases outside China so far.

The declaration comes hours after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the first case of human-to-human transmission of the coronavirus in the U.S., in a woman who traveled to China and then infected her husband. As confirmed cases in China have topped 8,000, nations are taking drastic measures to stop the virus’s spread.

Key Developments:

  • Recap Bloomberg’s live blog of the WHO press conference here
  • Automakers to likely cut China production by 15%, supplier says
  • Italian cruise ship will stay in port for now, despite negative diagnosis
  • What a WHO Global Health Emergency Means: QuickTake
  • Bloomberg is tracking the outlook here | Click here to view on terminal
WHO Declares Emergency; Cruise Passengers Cleared: Virus Update
WHO Declares Emergency; Cruise Passengers Cleared: Virus Update

Cruise Passengers Can Depart After Negative Test (4:21 p.m. NY)

Passengers will be allowed to leave a cruise ship that was quarantined in Italy, after a woman with coronavirus symptoms tested negative for the disease. The Costa Smeralda and the 7,000 people on board had been barred from leaving an Italian port while the case was investigated.

Cruise operator Carnival Corp. said Italian health authorities had diagnosed the 54-year-old passenger with the flu. Passengers will be allowed to disembark if they like, or can carry on with the ship as it continues its voyage, the company said.

Carnival shares closed down 3.8% on Thursday in New York.

WHO Calls Coronavirus International Emergency (3:06 p.m. NY)

The World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak centered in China a public health emergency of international concern, a step that will let public health authorities aid countries with less-robust health systems to stop the spread of the virus.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus praised China‘s efforts to contain the outbreak, saying he had never seen a nation respond so aggressively to a disease, including building a new hospital in just 10 days.

“Let me be clear: This declaration is not a vote of no confidence in China,” Tedros said. “On the contrary the WHO continues to have confidence in China’s capacity to control the outbreak.”

It’s a contrast to the criticism China faced for a lack to transparency during the SARS pandemic 17 years ago, which killed almost 800 people.

Tedros says there’s no need at this time for measures that interfere with travel and trade, even though many governments, airlines and businesses have already taken such steps. He also urged people to be careful of rumors and rushing to judgment.

“This is the time for facts not fear,” Tedros said. “This is the time for science not rumors. This is the time for solidarity not stigma.”

In the past, the WHO has come under fire for raising the alert too soon as well as too late. The last respiratory illness to trigger a health emergency was the flu pandemic of 2009, which caused widespread alarm but ended up being relatively mild. The WHO’s emergency committee, a group of infectious-disease experts, last week delayed a decision on whether to make the emergency declartion.

U.S. Has First Human-to-Human Transmission (12:43 p.m. NY)

A woman in Chicago who had been diagnosed last week with the coronavirus infected her husband, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday, the first case of human-to-human transmission to occur in the U.S.

Both patients are in their 60s and are doing well while being kept in isolation, CDC officials said on the call. The agency said the virus is not spreading widely and that the risk to the U.S. public remains low.

Disease experts are still trying to understand exactly how the virus spreads, and at what point after a person has become infected they become contagious. It’s also not clear, said CDC officials, how long a person has to be sick for before they will test positive. Both factors can present a challenge for public health workers who are keeping close tabs on contacts of people considered at risk.

The man and the woman had been in close contact, said the CDC, which appears to raise the risk of people becoming infected.

European Airlines Halt China Flights (12:09 p.m. NY)

European carriers led by British Airways said they’re temporarily quitting China as the deadly coronavirus spreads, following decisions by U.S. carriers to limit flights to the country.

BA took the most dramatic step, saying Thursday it will cease flights to Beijing and Shanghai until March 1 after acting on U.K. Foreign Office advice. Iberia, its Spanish sister carrier at IAG SA, is also suspending operations, while Deutsche Lufthansa AG, Air France and SAS AB said they’ll exit China until Feb. 9.

In the U.S., President Donald Trump’s economic adviser Larry Kudlow said the decision on canceling flights would be left to U.S. airlines, for now. Almost 11% of flights scheduled to or from China were scrapped between Jan. 23 and Jan. 28, based on research from Cirium, which analyzes air travel.

Initial Tests Show No Coronavirus on Italy Ship (10:50 p.m. HK)

Initial tests showed no coronavirus on a Carnival cruise ship that was blocked from leaving an Italian port. A 54-year-old woman from Macau had earlier demonstrated fever and respiratory symptoms. She has since been kept in isolation on board in the port of Civitavecchia, near Rome. Final results are expected later Thursday. Carnival Corp. stock pared declines to about 2% in the U.S.

Russia Closes China Border as Fears Grow (8 p.m. HK)

The Russian government ordered its vast land border with China shut as the Kremlin moves to keep the deadly coronavirus at bay. The closure affects movement of people, not goods.

While it’s still possible to fly to China, the Foreign Ministry warned Russians to refrain from non-essential travel to the country. Russia hasn’t reported any cases of the virus.

U.S. Plans Another Wuhan Evacuation Flight: Dow Jones (7 p.m. HK)

The U.S. will provide an additional flight to evacuate private citizens from Wuhan on or about Feb. 3, Dow Jones reports, citing unidentified people familiar with the situation.

An earlier flight carrying more than 200 Americans arrived at March Air Reserve Base in California, where the passengers are being monitored.

Hong Kong Warns of Surgical Mask Shortage (6 p.m. HK)

Hong Kong warned it’s struggling to supply enough surgical masks. Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung said the government has bought 13 million, but public hospitals are using five or six times as many as normal and Hong Kong is stepping up local production at correctional facilities to keep up with demand. Another 24 million should be available at retail outlets soon, he added.

Hong Kong’s population is about 7 million. Chief Executive Carrie Lam will hold a briefing Friday on the government’s latest measures against the spread of the virus, Cheung said.

India, Philippines Report First Virus Cases (4:55 p.m. HK)

India and the Philippines reported their first confirmed cases of the coronavirus, as the illness continues its global spread.

A student who attended Wuhan University tested positive in the southern Indian state of Kerala, the government said. Meanwhile, a 38-year-old female Chinese patient who arrived from Wuhan via Hong Kong on Jan. 21 has been confirmed as the first case in the Philippines.

Chinese Regions Extend Holidays (2:57 p.m. HK):

At least one Chinese city and several provinces have extended the Lunar New Year holiday beyond Feb. 2 in an effort to control the spread of the virus.

Shanghai, the autonomous region of Inner Mongolia and provinces of Guangdong, Zhejiang, Jiangsu have said businesses need not start operations until at least Feb. 10. Hubei province, where Wuhan is located, has said the holiday will last until at least Feb. 14.

China had already extended the holiday nationwide on Monday. It was originally due to end on Jan. 30, but was stretched to Feb. 2.

Trump Appoints Coronavirus Task Force (12:24 p.m. HK)

President Donald Trump appointed a task force to coordinate the U.S. response to the coronavirus outbreak.

The task force will be led by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, said White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham in a statement. Other figures include Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien.

The White House also plans to send CDC experts to China to help respond to the outbreak.

Supply-Chain Fears Hit Taiwan Stocks (12:08 p.m. HK)

Concern that the virus outbreak will disrupt the global supply chain rippled through Taiwan’s stock market. Taiwan’s Taiex plunged more than 5%, the most since October 2018, as trading reopened following the Lunar New Year break.

Foxconn’s Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., which assembles the majority of Apple Inc.’s iPhones from China and has minor operations in Wuhan, sank as much as 10%. Hon Hai said all of its facilities will resume full-scale production only from Feb. 10, more than a week later than originally planned.

Virus Spread May Prompt WHO Action: Expert (11:40 a.m. HK)

Developments over the past week may push the World Health Organization to issue a global alert over the coronavirus, after the agency last week stopped short of calling it a health emergency, according to a public health specialist.

Evidence that the disease can be transmitted before a person shows any signs of illness could make a difference as WHO’s emergency committee meets later Thursday, said Raina MacIntyre, a professor of global biosecurity at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. The global spread of the virus could also be a factor, she said.

“That brings a more complex issue to disease control,” McIntyre said in a phone interview Thursday. “It becomes much harder to control infection where you have got transmission without symptoms.”

Three Japanese Evacuated From Wuhan Have Virus (9:09 a.m. HK)

Three of the 206 people who returned to Japan from Hubei Province on Wednesday tested positive for the new coronavirus, with two not showing any symptoms, Japan Health Minister Katsunobu Kato told a parliamentary committee.

Two other evacuees on the charter plane declined to be tested and were sent home, according to the Health Ministry. Kato said officials did not have the legal power to force them to be tested. A second charter plane carrying 210 more evacuees arrived in Tokyo from Wuhan on Thursday morning.

China Virus Cases Surge to Over 7,700 (7:47 a.m. HK)

China’s death toll from the coronavirus rose to 170 from 132 previously, while the number of cases on the mainland jumped to 7,711, according to the National Health Commission.

WHO Declares Emergency; Cruise Passengers Cleared: Virus Update

U.S. to Send Experts to China: Kudlow (6:45 a.m. HK)

President Donald Trump’s top economic adviser said the U.S. would send experts to China to help the nation contain the coronavirus outbreak.

“We are sending our best experts from CDC to help them,” Larry Kudlow told reporters on Wednesday, referring to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “The Chinese invited us to do so.”

Asked whether the White House is considering restricting flights to China, Kudlow said, “there’s a lot of discussions going on one way or another.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

Also read: WHO to Mull Emergency Declaration as Deaths Rise: Virus Update

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