Hubei Reports Huge Drop In New Cases On Wednesday As President Xi Touts Progress In 'People's War' Against COVID-19

Summary:

  • Diamond Princess confirms another 79 cases as quarantine ends
  • Hubei reports 349 new cases, 108 deaths
  • CDC questions Japan's handling of 'DP' quarantine
  • UK tells passengers to stay aboard ship until it finishes planning an official evacuation
  • Wuhan wraps up campaign to quarantine all infected people
  • 29 Macau casinos to reopen
  • CDC issues 'Level 1' travel notice for Hong Kong
  • Dems write letter to Trump asking him to request more resources
  • Video shows group who broke quarantine in Wuhan being taken to 'reeducation center'
  • Russia "clarifies" ban on all Chinese: Says will allow some visas.
  • Markets climb amid optimism that China is moving to support industries harmed by outbreak
  • Puma, Adidas warn of virus-related hit in Q1
  • Taiwan, South Korea report new cases
  • The 2 Iranian COVID-19 patients reported earlier have died.

* * *

Update (1822ET): CNBC's Eunice Yoon reports that 29 of 41 Macau casinos will reopen Thursday night.

Meanwhile, AP reports that Hong Kong has sent a plane to evacuate roughly 100 Hong Kongers being released by the 'Diamond Princess'.

* * * 

Update (1745ET): Surprise, surprise: After days of Beijing touting a drop in new confirmed cases as evidence that the outbreak is abating, Hubei has reported a massive drop in new confirmed cases on Wednesday after once again revising the guidelines for what constitutes a 'confirmed' case. 

AT 108, deaths remained relatively stable, fluctuating around 100 a day. 

Yesterday, China passed the milestone of 2,000 COVID-19-related deaths.

  • CHINA HUBEI REPORTS 108 NEW CORONAVIRUS DEATHS FEB. 19
  • HUBEI REPORTS 349 NEW CASES AFTER NATIONAL GUIDELINES REVISED

During a speech on Wednesday, President Xi declared that China was making progress in the 'People's War' against the virus. 

Meanwhile, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a news conference on Wednesday that the data from China appeared to show a decline in new cases, but "outside China, we have seen a steady drip of new cases, but we have not yet seen sustained local transmission, except in specific circumstances like the Diamond Princess cruise ship."

* * *

Update (1440ET): In the latest batch of outbreak-related news, the American CDC issued a new "Level 1" travel notice Wednesday advising US citizens traveling there to make sure they remember basic hygiene practices like handwashing, after Hong Kong reported its second death from the virus overnight.

The CDC encouraged Americans planning a trip to the area to cancel it. A few weeks ago, the CDC issued a 'level three' travel warning for mainland China, but HK, Macau and Taiwan weren't covered by that notice.

As Japanese health authorities prepare to release the next batch of passengers and crew from the 'Diamond Princess', WaPo reports that the first crewmember who fell victim to the virus has made a full recovery. He was admitted to a hospital on Feb. 5, and has been "successfully treated." The crew member was Filipino, and about 40 other Filipinos who traveled on the ship were hospitalized in Tokyo. The government of the Philippines is working closely with Japan to figure out how and when the Filipino crew members will be transported back to the Philippines.

Meanwhile, it seems Democrats have found an angle to bash Trump's (so far extremely adequate) response to the coronavirus outbreak. In a letter signed by 25 Democratic senators, the lawmakers expressed concern that Trump hadn't yet requested additional money from Congress.

During a briefing a week ago, administration officials told lawmakers that they must be prepared for a very large and lengthy public health response to this virus given how easily it appears to be transmitted, according to the letter. “They also stated that [the Department of Health and Human Services] would exhaust existing funding for the response soon.”

The letter also cites anxieties expressed by state officials that they won't be reimbursed for expenses like testing kits to screen potential carriers for the virus.

"We strongly urge the Administration to transmit an emergency supplemental request that ensures it can and will fully reimburse states for the costs," the Senators said.

Though few in the international community believe them, North Korea on Wednesday once again insisted it hadn't confirmed any cases of the virus, according to WaPo, which also received a copy of the letter from Senate Democrats.

"Fortunately, no coronavirus case has been reported in our country to date," Pyongyang’s Health Minister Oh Chun Bok told the official Korea Central Television.

The letter also notes that Trump's budget calls for a 9% cut in funding to the Department of Health and Human Services, which includes the CDC.

In Singapore, where a rapid jump in confirmed virus cases is provoking anxiety, Facebook criticized the city state's authoritarian government for invoking a controversial fake-news law to block a Facebook page that the government said had been posting "misleading" information about the outbreak.

Although it is legally obliged to take down the site, Facebook Inc said it was "deeply concerned" about the government's request, which targeted the website of a media organization, the States Times Review, according to Reuters.

"We believe orders like this are disproportionate and contradict the government’s claim that POFMA would not be used as a censorship tool."

"We’ve repeatedly highlighted this law’s potential for overreach and we’re deeply concerned about the precedent this sets for the stifling of freedom of expression in Singapore."

The States Times Review is run by Australia-based Singaporean political dissident Alex Tan and has already been censored three times under the "fake news" law, which only came into effect in October.

Circling back to the two deaths in Iran - probably the strangest piece of coronavirus news from Wednesday - The New York Times reports, citing Iran's state-run news agency IRNA, that both of those who died were "old" and that one had survived brutal chemical attacks during the Iran-Iraq war.

There's also some "new" news about the 712 people being actively monitored by Washington State, something we noted yesterday. A local TV station reports that the people being watched either had contact with individuals who tested positive for the virus, or others who recently traveled from China. The first coronavirus case diagnosed in the US was in Washington State.

Finally, the AP reports that inspectors in protective suits have been going door to door in Wuhan in an effort to find and quarantine every infected person in the city. Wednesday marked the final day of a campaign to round up anyone believed to be infected, or who appears to be showing symptoms.

* * *

Update (1115ET): The 2 Iranians who reportedly tested positive for COVID-19 have died, according to several foreign media reports cited by Reuters.

As we reported earlier, a health ministry spokesperson said both cases were found and isolated in the city of Qom, where the two were treated in quarantine. Their conditions were said to be relatively stable earlier.

Experts worry that Iran might have dozens more undiagnosed cases by now, even as Iran has applied 'safety measures' like temperature screenings at its airports. That hasn't exactly been found to be the most effective measure to stop those infected with the virus from slipping through.

* * *

Update (1025ET): Epoch Times' Jennifer Zeng has shared some of the most startling videos gleaned from Chinese social media before the country's censors can take them down.

And this latest one is no exception.

According to Zeng, the crowd of people depicted in the video are being herded into the "No. 2 Hospital of Wuhan Iron & Steel Corp" to be "re-educated" after they were caught walking the street without permission or an excuse.

These draconian crackdowns are driving millions of Chinese bonkers as they're confined largely to their homes. And all of it will be rendered insignificant as Japan unleashes a boat load of infected patients on Tokyo.

Meanwhile, the latest figures show that over 15,000 people around the world have now recovered from the virus. The recovery rate for Hubei is still below 15%, unfortunately, while the number for the outside world is 40%. Eight out of nine patients in the UK have recovered, while half of Thailand's 35 cases have recovered.

In Thailand, nearly half of the 35 cases in the country have recovered. Earlier this week, the WHO said 4/5 of the cases in China were relatively mild and are expected to recover.

Elsewhere, Taiwan reported another confirmed case on Wednesday, its 24th confirmed infection: the victim was said to be a woman in  her 60s with no history of foreign travel. Just like in Japan, more cases are emerging where the source of the virus is baffling to authorities.

* * *

Update (0900ET): Following Russian newswire reports yesterday that the Kremlin would become the first country to completely ban all Chinese from entering the country and freeze all visas for Chinese applicants, the Russian Foreign Minister on Wednesday clarified that it will continue to issue some visas, with very strict guidelines.

Visas will continue to be issued for official, business, humanitarian and transit purposes, the foreign ministry said.

The ban will take effect Thursday at midnight Moscow Time.

The Kremlin imposed the ban because of the "worsening epidemiological situation" in China, according to the office of the deputy prime minister, according to the Guardian.

The Foreign Minister added that the ban is temporary and only applies to visitors with tourist, private, student and work visas.

"We reiterate our willingness to continue close cooperation with China in order to efficiently eradicate this common threat."

Russia has had three confirmed cases of the Covid-19 disease.

Beijing has made it known that it finds bans on Chinese travelers to be "racist". Following the expulsion of 3 WSJ journalists over a 'racist' opinion column, we suspect the Russian embassy got an earful from their partners in Beijing.

* * *

Update (0845ET): As the G-20 meeting of finance ministers and central bank governors begins in Riyadh, the IMF has published an essay warning that newfound "uncertainties" brought about by the coronavirus could lead to a "long-lasting and more severe outbreak".

In the lengthy piece, penned by IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva, warns that after central banks around the world including the Fed cut rates 71 times last year, the biggest monetary boom since the global financial crisis has left the global economy in good shape.

Still, China presents a serious problem. If the virus is contained, the economic impact on the mainland will be short-lived, and the knock-on effects for the rest of the world, transmitted via disruptions to global supply chains, will be minimal.

But if Beijing can't get a handle on this thing, well...

The coronavirus is our most pressing uncertainty: a global health emergency we did not anticipate in January. It is a stark reminder of how a fragile recovery could be threatened by unforeseen events. There are a number of scenarios, depending on how quickly the spread of the virus is contained. If the disruptions from the virus end quickly, we expect the Chinese economy to bounce back soon. The result would be a sharp drop in GDP growth in China in the first quarter of 2020, but only a small reduction for the entire year. Spillovers to other countries would remain relatively minor and short-lived, mostly through temporary supply chain disruptions, tourism, and travel restrictions.

However, a long-lasting and more severe outbreak would result in a sharper and more protracted growth slowdown in China. Its global impact would be amplified through more substantial supply chain disruptions and a more persistent drop in investor confidence, especially if the epidemic spreads beyond China.

The rest of the essay goes on to discuss a host of other global risk factors.

The implications are clear: Central banks response to the outbreak will inevitably be to ease more (a process that the PBOC has already started, and which the Bank of Korea is expected to join). Which means Davos 2021 will be all about central banks' inability to rescue the global economy.

* * *

Tehran is not having a good year.

First, President Trump rang in the new decade by barbecuing the leader of the IRGC Quds Force. In response, Iran killed zero Americans but accidentally shot down a Ukrainian passenger plane, killing nearly 200 people, including dozens of Iranian students, then they tried to lie about it, before finally coming clean.

All that was probably enough to destabilize the regime on its own. Though it has quieted down somewhat, the public outrage is still simmering as Iran's rolling economic crisis continues.

Now, on top of all that, Tehran has confirmed to the AP that authorities have confirmed two cases of the coronavirus in Iran. That means the virus has now infiltrated two of the world's most isolated states - Iran and North Korea. Many outsiders believe North Korea has confirmed at least one case of the virus, but that it has withheld this information from the international community to avoid inciting a panic.

Like North Korea, Iran's battered economy, crippled by years of American sanctions, is hardly equipped to deal with the outbreak. According to Iranian media, the cases were confirmed in the central province of Qom. More patients are being tested as an unknown number of suspected cases have been isolated, according to the AP.

Last night in New York, we reported that Japanese health authorities were preparing to release the first batch of 500 passengers and crew who had reportedly tested negative for the virus (though that doesn't completely rule out the possibility that a few of them might still develop symptoms caused by COVID-19).

On Wednesday morning in the US (so Wednesday night in Japan), health officials revealed that 79 more people onboard had tested positive for the virus, taking the total number of infected aboard the ship to 621, the AP reports.

As we've noted several times, the notion that thousands of people are about to be released while hundreds of cases of the virus are still being confirmed seems like insanity. While most of the patients will face two more weeks of quarantine when they return home, how are they planning on getting there? There's been no word of an official government transport. By allowing them to travel home, Japan is breaking the quarantine.

Britain has told passengers on board the ship not to disembark when Japan gives them the all clear, instead advising them to stay put and wait for the UK to organize an evacuation flight later this week to minimize their odds of infecting others.

Seems like a particularly stupid thing to do when the Tokyo Olympics are coming up this summer.

After the virus death toll on the mainland hit 2,000 last night, Johns Hopkins reports that the number of confirmed cases and deaths haven't moved since then: By their count, total confirmed stood at 75,201 while deaths stood at 2,012.

Johns Hopkins

Last night, the CDC warned that Japan's quarantine of the 'Diamond Princess' "may not have been sufficient" to prevent transmission among individuals on the ship.

In other slightly more positive cruise-ship related news, the Guardian reports that A total of 781 guests who disembarked from the Westerdam cruise ship in Cambodia have tested negative for Covid-19, according to Holland America, the ship's operator. The final passengers left the ship on Wednesdya.

As Beijing tries to reassure its population, half of which is under lockdown, that everything is going to be okay, Reuters reports that China’s central bank and its finance ministry won't send any officials to a G-20 finance ministers and central bank governors meeting in Riyadh due to the Coronavirus outbreak.

Meanwhile, in Wuhan, the twin nightmares of the 'war time' lockdown coupled with the ravages of the virus continue to work their wonders.

The yuan strengthened early Wednesday following reports that China is weighing measures including direct cash infusions and mergers to bail out the airline industry and others. Earlier, the state directed Chinese banks to offer emergency loans to troubled companies. The South Korean government and central bank announced a similar plan earlier this week. Some of the measures including easing infection controls in certain manufacturing hubs to get production back on line.

Optimism about China's efforts to help companies hurt by the virus put US stocks on track for a solid gain at the open on Wednesday, potentially enough to send all three benchmark indexes to fresh record highs.

Speaking of South Korea, the country reported 20 new cases overnight, bringing its total to 51.

As we reported earlier, Beijing expelled 3 WSJ reporters on Wednesday over an opinion column published by the paper that Beijing decried as 'racist'.

Remember, next time you hear somebody talking about the outbreak 'slowing down', take a look at this:

In corporate news, Puma and Adidas, which generate 1/3rd of revenues in the APac region, became the latest clothing brands to warn of disruption in their business in China as they have closed stores there. Puma sees a hit in Q1, while Adidas notes an 85% decline in business activity in the world's second-biggest economy.