coronavirus update: china to restart economy while fighting the virus

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The death toll reached a new high, at least 1,113, but Chinese officials said the infection rate showed signs of slowing.

Top Chinese officials have approved a broad strategy for trying to bring the coronavirus outbreak under control while restarting economic production, state news outlets said Wednesday evening.

The orders issued to provincial and municipal leaders included exhortations to fight the virus, along with fairly specific economic policy moves.

For example, President Xi Jinping ordered that tax cuts be drafted and put into effect.

Premier Li Keqiang, the country’s No. 2 official, and the country’s cabinet ordered the start of major construction projects across the country as quickly as feasible.

State-owned enterprises were told to cut rents. Banks were told to keep interest rates low.

City governments were told to make sure that workers who went home for the Lunar New Year holiday could reach their jobs; municipal quarantines had blocked much of the country’s migrant labor force from returning.

The two most powerful political bodies in China — the Standing Committee of the Communist Party Politburo and the government’s cabinet of ministers — had been holding meetings over the past two days, and each issued similar orders. Both groups produced hints of what many economists expect will be a fairly broad stimulus program in the weeks and months to come to offset the drag on the economy from the epidemic.

The weeklong Lunar New Year holiday has already stretched to nearly three weeks, with a wide array of factories, shops, restaurants and other businesses closed.

But none of the announcements directly addressed the difficult balancing act that China now faces: how to put more than 700 million workers back on the job without bringing together large groups of people that could allow the virus to spread.

The closest that anyone came to addressing that tension was an edict from the cabinet that provinces and cities with few cases of disease should focus on restarting production, while leaders in Hubei Province and its capital, Wuhan — which have had the bulk of the cases and the deaths — should continue to focus on fighting the outbreak.

The Shanghai municipal government announced separately on Wednesday that it was working with foreign-owned enterprises to help them restart production.

Workers loading supplies into the cruise ship Diamond Princess in Yokohama, Japan, on Wednesday.

The coronavirus has jumped from ship to shore, officials in Japan said on Wednesday, after an employee of the country’s Health Ministry tested positive for the illness after surveying passengers aboard a cruise ship being held under quarantine in the port of Yokohama.

In addition, 39 new confirmed cases were announced among the more than 3,600 crew and passengers, bringing the total number of infected people to 175.

CRUISE SHIP MISERY
Quarantined passengers have a lot of questions. Japan has few answers.

The ship, known as the Diamond Princess, has been under quarantine for a week, after a passenger who disembarked in Hong Kong tested positive for the coronavirus.

The Japanese authorities have been slowly moving those with the illness off the ship and to hospitals. But onboard, many passengers are complaining of lack of information and poor access to necessary medicines.

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Passengers on board the Holland America-operated Westerdam cruise ship, which has been given permission to dock in Sihanoukville in Cambodia.

A cruise ship carrying 1,400 passengers that had been refused permission to stop in Japan, Guam, Taiwan and the Philippines even though no cases of the coronavirus had been diagnosed onboard may have found a place to dock.

On Wednesday, Cambodia said it would allow the ship, the Westerdam, to dock on Thursday morning and the passengers to disembark, according to a statement from the cruise line Holland America, which owns the ship.

“Westerdam is now sailing for Sihanoukville, Cambodia, where the current cruise will end. We will arrive at 7:00 a.m. local time on Thursday, Feb. 13, and will remain in port for several days for disembarkation. Guests will be able to go ashore,” the company, which is owned by the cruise giant Carnival, said in the statement.

“We are extremely grateful to the Cambodian authorities for their support,” the statement added.

The cruise ship, which had been on a 14-day voyage after departing from Hong Kong on Feb. 1, was to stop on Feb. 15 in Yokohama, Japan. But it was turned away at every turn.

On Wednesday, Holland America said, “All guests on board are healthy, and despite erroneous reports, there are no known or suspected cases of coronavirus on board, nor have there ever been.”

Residents lining up to enter a supermarket in Wuhan, China, on Tuesday. The city, the center of the outbreak, limits the number of people allowed to enter at the same time. 

The death toll from the coronavirus in China reached a new high on Wednesday, at least 1,113, even as Chinese officials said that the rate of new infections showed signs of slowing.

Nationwide, 97 new deaths and 2,015 new cases have emerged in the previous 24 hours, the national health authorities said.

The newly reported infections on Tuesday represented the lowest in China in a single day since Jan. 30, when there were 1,982 new confirmed cases.

The total number of confirmed cases rose to 44,653. Most of the newly reported deaths, 94, occurred in Hubei Province, the heart of the outbreak.

There are 393 cases of the new coronavirus disease outside China, in 24 countries.

The authorities quarantined a public housing complex in Hong Kong after two residents were confirmed to have contracted the coronavirus on Tuesday.

The World Health Organization on Tuesday proposed an official name for the illness caused by the new coronavirus: COVID-19. The acronym stands for coronavirus disease 2019, as the illness was first detected toward the end of last year.

The director general of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, noted that the new name made no reference to any of the people, places or animals associated with the coronavirus. The goal was to avoid stigma.

Under international guidelines, the W.H.O. “had to find a name that did not refer to a geographical location, an animal, an individual or group of people, and which is also pronounceable and related to the disease,” he said on Twitter.

A subway station in Hong Kong on Tuesday, where commuters wore protective face masks.

The United States will allow nonemergency consulate employees in Hong Kong and their families to leave because of the coronavirus outbreak, a State Department official said on Wednesday.

The decision to allow voluntary departures was made in response to continuing uncertainty surrounding the outbreak and practical considerations such as school closings, the official said.

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The consulate in Hong Kong will remain open and continue to provide regular services.

A similar decision was made to allow nonemergency State Department personnel and their families to leave mainland China in late January.

The State Department chartered flights and evacuated about 850 people from Wuhan, where the outbreak began late last year, including employees of the United States Consulate in the city.

Hong Kong has 50 confirmed coronavirus cases and one death. The State Department’s travel advisory for the city is at Level 2, the second-lowest of four levels, and recommends that visitors to Hong Kong “exercise increased caution” because of the outbreak.

This month, the warning for mainland China was raised to 4, the highest level.

“Do not travel to China due to the novel coronavirus,” it said.

A qualifying session of the Chinese Formula One Grand Prix in Shanghai last year.

Formula One’s governing body said on Wednesday that it would postpone the Shanghai Grand Prix, which was scheduled to take place on April 19, the latest sporting event to be canceled because of the coronavirus outbreak.

The International Automobile Federation said it had taken the measure “to ensure the health and safety of the traveling staff, championship participants and fans,” after the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a global health concern.

The federation said it was studying alternative dates later in the year in case the situation improved.

The Hong Kong marathon, which was scheduled for Sunday, has also been canceled, as well as the Chinese Formula-E Grand Prix, which was scheduled for March 23 on the southern island of Hainan.

China has also suspended its soccer league, and the players of its national women’s team found themselves in quarantine upon their arrival in Australia for an Olympic qualifying event.

The Central Business District area in Beijing on Tuesday.

The coronavirus outbreak in China has generated economic waves that are rocking commodities markets and disrupting the supply networks that act as the backbone of the global economy.

In Australia, after hauling hundreds of thousands of tons of iron ore to China, returning freighters can face a 14-day quarantine.

BHP, one of the world’s largest copper mining companies, which has headquarters in London and Melbourne, Australia, has been in talks to possibly delay shipments to Chinese ports.

And from Qatar to Indonesia, exporters of liquefied natural gas face the prospect of disrupted shipments because China, a crucial importer, is turning back deliveries.

“We’re seeing a rippling out,” said Ed Morse, global head of commodities research at Citigroup in New York. “And we don’t see it stopping.”

ECONOMIC LOGJAM GROWS
A tumble in commodity markets reflects the spreading ripples of an outbreak.

Prices for key industrial raw materials such as copper, iron ore, nickel, aluminum and liquid natural gas have plummeted since the virus emerged. Countries that export those goods at high rates, including Australia, Brazil and South Africa, are near their lowest levels in recent memory.

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And manufacturers, mining companies and commodity producers of all stripes are weighing whether they will be forced to cut back on production for fear of adding to a growing inventory glut.

A nearly empty street in Beijing on Tuesday.

Airbnb will suspend bookings in the Chinese capital until May 1, the company said on Wednesday.

The decision was made “in accordance with guidance issued by the government to all companies in the short-term rental industry,” a spokesman for the company said. He added that existing reservations would be refunded.

Airbnb has also waived cancellation fees for travel to and from mainland China until the end of February. Travelers who had booked stays in Hubei, the province at the center of the outbreak, can cancel reservations without charge until April 1.

The company had continued to accept reservations throughout China during the busy travel season before and after the Lunar New Year holiday, even as the government started to lock down cities and impose road restrictions to stop the spread of the virus.

The company also said it would set aside $10 million “to support hosts in the next few years, during the recovery period of the local tourism industry.”

A person sick from the coronavirus was released from a San Diego hospital this week after a labeling error led the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to incorrectly indicate that the person was not infected, the federal authorities said.

The samples had not yet been tested when officials announced mistakenly that the results were negative.

The patient, among hundreds recently evacuated to the United States from China and under quarantine at a military base, was sent back to the base because of the error, the C.D.C. said.

The patient was among three quarantined evacuees at the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego whose samples were lacking information and went untested, said Kristen Nordlund, a spokeswoman for the C.D.C.

It was uncertain how the labeling error had been made and which agency had been responsible. A spokeswoman for the hospital, the University of California San Diego, said there had been a miscommunication over how to identify patients.

ERROR RELEASES PATIENT
The person was one of hundreds evacuated by the United States from China.

With a rare, federal quarantine mandated for people arriving from Wuhan, China, the center of the outbreak, the labeling error raised concerns among some being kept at the base.

“It caused quite a commotion on the base,” said John McGory, who had taught English in Wuhan for six years and is one of about 230 people being held there.

Reporting and research was contributed by Amber Wang, Zoe Mou, Albee Zhang, Yiwei Wang, Claire Fu, Amy Qin, Sui-Lee Wee, Steven Lee Myers, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Matt Phillips, Austin Ramzy, Tiffany May, Elian Peltier and Yonette Joseph.

 

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