Closed Coronavirus: American Airlines union sues to stop China flights – as it happened


Live coverage of the coronavirus outbreak.

Coronavirus spread sparks market volatility ahead of WHO meeting

Market tumult has continued today as authorities scramble to stem the spread of a deadly new virus both in China and beyond.

With almost 8,000 cases of the coronavirus confirmed within China and nearly 100 more internationally, the World Health Organization is set to meet in Geneva today to decide if the outbreak constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.

There has been a sharp sell-off in Asian stocks, while European equities have also come under pressure. China’s renminbi, meanwhile, dropped below Rmb7 to the dollar for the first time this year.

We will be following the international response to the outbreak and market reactions live on this blog today, so follow along here.

Emoticon Russia closes border with China

Henry Foy in Moscow reports:

Russia has ordered the closure of its land border with China, the country’s prime minister said, as Moscow scrambles to prevent the coronavirus infection spreading from its south-eastern neighbour.

Russia has no confirmed cases of the virus but its government has already put in place measures to ban mass public gatherings and block large Chinese tour groups from entering the country.

“The relevant directive was signed today. It is being processed. Later today, we will inform everyone about the measures taken to close the border in the far east and other measures taken by the government,” prime minister Mikhail Mishustin said. “We must do everything to protect our people.”

Earlier this week three of Russia’s five eastern regions bordering China said they would close land crossings with the country.

At the same time, Russia’s foreign ministry said on Thursday it had suspended the issuance of electronic visas for Chinese citizens, who were previously able to use the permits to enter the country in St Petersburg, Kaliningrad and at multiple crossings in the far east.

Global markets under fresh pressure

China’s currency weakened past a key level with global stocks under pressure as fresh concerns over the coronavirus outbreak rippled through global markets on Thursday.

• The offshore renminbi, which trades in major hubs outside mainland China, dropped below Rmb7 to the US dollar for the first time this year before recovering slightly. It has tumbled more than 2 per cent since January 20.

• Stock markets across Asia fell, led by a nearly 5 per cent fall for Taiwan’s Taiex index as traders returned from holiday.

• The composite Stoxx Europe 600 recovered some of its opening losses to trade 0.7 per cent lower, with losses across the region’s major bourses from London to Frankfurt.

• Futures trading pointed to losses of about 0.7 per cent on Wall Street.

• Assets seen as havens in times of market stress gained. Gold, the Swiss franc and Japanese yen rose while government bonds rallied.

• Oil prices pulled back with Brent crude down 1.9 per cent to $58.70 a barrel.

Oil major Shell on alert over virus spread

Anjli Raval, Senior Energy Correspondent, reports:

Ben Van Beurden, chief executive of energy major Royal Dutch Shell, said this morning his company was keeping a close watch on the coronavirus spread and that the group would have to ensure it was prepared for any fallout.

“The [macroeconomic] sentiment is dominated by what is happening in the health situation around the world,” Mr Van Beurden said on the company’s fourth-quarter earnings call.

“We are obviously monitoring that very carefully … monitoring that in China where we, of course, have operations. We are trying to understand how this is progressing and it could [have an] impact on the global economy and on our sector.”

“But anything I would say on that at this point in time would be mere speculation. The key point to take into account is that yes there are risks to the downside, and we have to make sure that our business is resilient.”

Cruise operators hit by port closures and cancelled sailings

Alice Hancock, Leisure Industries Correspondent, reports:

As the coronavirus outbreak worsens, across the cruise industry, sailings have been cancelled with most cruise lines offering refunds or alternative dates later in the year.

The mayor of the port city Olangapo in the Philippines has written a letter to the region’s metropolitan authority asking it to shut the bay to cruise ships until the virus has been contained.

Meanwhile, Royal Caribbean has said that cancelling three of its sailings from China will impact its 2020 financial results by “approximately $0.10 per share”.

According to the cruise ship tracker,, there are currently three cruise ships in Chinese ports, while Costa cruise line’s Venezia ship is just off the Shanghai cost. When it docked in Shenzhen yesterday, the ship’s more than 6,000 passengers and crew were checked by medical teams. Local press reports said that four were found to have high temperatures.

WHO to hold emergency meeting

The World Health Organization meets later in Geneva to discuss whether to declare a global emergency, in what could be an inflection point in the worldwide response to the coronavirus.

The meeting is scheduled to start at 12:30 London time. Markets were reassured last week when the organisation decided against declaring an emergency, so the decision today will be closely-watched around the world.

Scientists are racing to understand the deadly virus that emerged in China last month.

Why traders are watching China’s currency

China’s offshore currency breached a key level today, as it weakened past Rmb7 to the US dollar for the first time this year. It has tumbled more than 2 per cent since January 20.

China’s currency is a slightly complex beast. We are watching the offshore rate this week as Chinese markets are closed. The onshore rate can only move 2 per cent either direction of a daily fix set by the People’s Bank of China.

Hudson Lockett in Hong Kong has more:

Analysts said the extended lunar new year holiday, part of measures taken by China to try and control the virus, has kept the onshore market offline and prevented the central bank from setting a midpoint for the band since Friday, leaving offshore traders without a steer from Beijing.

Christy Tan, head of Asia markets strategy and research for NAB, said the weaker offshore rate was “a precursor of what will happen when onshore [trading] reopens” on Monday.

“Markets are taking a pre-emptive stance that things are probably not going to get better before the weekend,” she said, adding that downward pressure on the currency could grow if the WHO decides to declare the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern at its meeting later today in Geneva.

Explainer: How dangerous is the new coronavirus?

Clive Cookson, Science Editor, reports:

The nCoV coronavirus has killed 170 people in China and infected 7,711. Around 100 cases have been confirmed outside China. Worryingly, it seems to transmit more readily between humans than Sars, a similar coronavirus that killed almost 800 people after it originated in China 17 years ago.

Computer modelling at Imperial College London and Lancaster University in the UK suggest that each new coronavirus case is infecting on average about 2.5 other people.

The new virus is, however, less virulent than Sars, which killed 10 per cent of those infected. So far nCoV has caused severe respiratory disease in about a quarter of the confirmed cases and killed 2-3 per cent of patients.

But experts warn that fatality rates are hard to estimate in the early stages of an outbreak — and the virus may mutate as it passes between people. It is also impossible to predict whether genetic changes will make it more or less virulent.

For more on the key questions surrounding the new virus, check out Clive’s Q&A here.

Brief concern in Thailand after PM falls ill

John Reed in Bangkok reports:

Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has fallen ill a day after inspecting health screening systems at the country’s main airport, but the country’s health minister denied he had contracted coronavirus.

“Today I’m sick with a little cold,” Mr Prayuth wrote on his official Twitter account on Thursday. “Resting according to doctor’s orders.”

Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul, speaking to reporters, rejected the notion that Prayuth might have contracted the disease.

On Wednesday the prime minister inspected the screening system for arriving passengers at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi international airport.

On Thursday, as word of his illness emerged, #PrayforPrayuth trended on Twitter in Thailand, with some wishing the 65-year-old leader well, but others appending the hashtag to irreverent and satirical memes.

Thailand’s government has come under criticism for its initial response to the crisis because of initial gaps in the health check regime for arriving passengers at airports, and delays in evacuating Thai citizens from Wuhan. The country has confirmed 14 cases of the virus. All were people who arrived from China, which is Thailand’s leading source of foreign tourists.

Chinese authorities face growing backlash over coronavirus response

Christian Shepherd reports from Beijing:

Public anger at Chinese officials over their handling of the coronavirus outbreak has swelled, after local media discovered that police had punished medical personnel for “rumour-mongering” when they shared early discoveries of the infection online.

President Xi Jinping has pledged an all out war to stop the “devil” virus, effectively quarantining about 50m people in Hubei province.

But online critics have questioned whether the authorities moved fast enough, with six weeks passing between the first case and a nationwide response. Officials in Wuhan, the city at the heart of the outbreak, have taken the brunt of the outrage.

The city’s government attracted a fresh wave of anger on Thursday after bloggers identified eight individuals called in for questioning by the Wuhan police in early January as medical personnel who had been attempting to raise the alarm about the virus.

China’s Supreme Court on Wednesday took the rare step of criticising Wuhan police for punishing the eight people for “rumour-mongering” in the early days of the outbreak after they said that the virus was Sars.

Although the virus is distinct from Sars, the statements were “not a total fabrication” and might have helped spur precautionary measures, court commentator Tang Xinghua wrote, adding that tolerance should be shown.

Wuhan’s police later issued a statement on social media saying that the eight had not been formally detained, only “educated and criticised”.

Investors struggle to price outbreak

Global stocks have come under fresh selling pressure.

The composite Stoxx Europe 600 traded 0.8 per cent lower a few moments ago, while futures trading was pointing to similar losses for the S&P 500 on Wall Street. Gold, the Swiss franc and Japanese yen rose while government bonds rallied.

Investors have struggled to price the effects of the outbreak, with Asia bearing the brunt of the negative sentiment and past sell-offs in Europe and the US followed by sharp rebounds. But the impact of the virus is spreading, with airlines suspending routes, tech groups and automakers closing factories and warnings that China’s economic growth could be slashed.

Rabobank strategist Richard McGuire has a useful note out on this subject today:

The seriousness of the current outbreak is not to be underestimated, but attempts to compare the current virus with the economic and financial impacts seen as a result of Sars are fraught, not least because of the vastly different nature of both the size and impact of the Chinese economy on world growth and financial markets in the intervening period. Attempts to place estimates on broader market and equity prices are even more fraught, in our view, with such efforts representing attempts to control the unknown, at best.

BA cancels flights to mainland China for a month

British Airways has said it is stopping all flights to the Chinese mainland until February 29, extending a two-day suspension it imposed yesterday.

The carrier said the move — which affects its routes to Beijing and Shanghai — followed Foreign and Commonwealth Office advice against all but essential travel to China as the coronavirus outbreak intensifies. BA flights to Hong Kong will not be affected.

Scandinavian carrier SAS also said today it had suspended all flights to mainland China, from tomorrow until February 9.

The moves follow a decision yesterday by Germany’s Lufthansa — and its subsidiaries Swiss and Austrian Airlines — to halt all flights to the Chinese mainland until February 9.

Air France said this morning that it would continue flights to Beijing and Shanghai, but reduce their frequency to one flight a day, due to a decrease in demand. It has cancelled flights to Wuhan, the epicentre of the viral outbreak.

Dutch carrier KLM — the sister airline of Air France — said it was suspending flights to some Chinese destinations but continuing routes to Shanghai and Beijing, saying that based on current information from health and aviation authorities, there was “no reason to suspend the entire operation to China”.

Taiwan reports ninth case

Kathrin Hille in Taipei reports:

Taiwan reported its ninth confirmed case of coronavirus on Thursday.

The patient is the wife of a Taiwanese man who recently returned from work in Wuhan, making her the second case of local transmission within a family.

According to health minister Chen Shih-chung, the husband had experienced light symptoms of a cold on his return from China earlier this month. But since he had no fever and no signs of pneumonia, he was not tested for the virus and not categorised as a suspected case. Taiwan has since tightened its criteria for suspected cases to ensure any person with cold or flu-like symptoms are tested if they have recently been to China or in contact with suspected cases.

China’s cabinet issues urgent call for resumed production of medical supplies

Ryan McMorrow reports from Beijing:

China’s cabinet has published an urgent notice telling local governments across the country to “rapidly” make sure companies under their jurisdiction resume production of much-needed medical supplies.

Shelves in pharmacies and the online bazaars of Alibaba, and Pinduoduo have been empty of facemasks, hand sanitizer and other essential goods for days.

Hospitals at the centre of the outbreak in Hubei Province have also been issuing calls for donations of medical supplies like protective suits as the coronavirus spread caught the nation on holiday.

The directive focuses on resuming production of medical use protective clothing and goggles, N95 facemasks, among other goods.

The cabinet called on local officials to make sure companies had the manpower, materials, and capital needed to quickly resume production. Some larger producers were told to report their production levels and inventories.

Tracking the spread of the coronavirus

Here is the latest map tracking the coronavirus outbreak, produced by the FT’s visual data team:

Global markets latest

Here’s how markets are looking at lunchtime in Europe and ahead of the open on Wall Street.

• In Europe, the Stoxx 600 index which tracks the region’s biggest companies traded 1 per cent lower, following a sharp sell-off in Asia.

• Futures trading was pointing to losses of about 0.8 per cent for the S&P 500 on Wall Street.

• Moves were larger in Asia, led by a nearly 5 per cent fall for Taiwan’s Taiex index as traders returned from holiday.

• Tech stocks with heavy exposure to China were the hardest hit as Foxconn, the world’s largest contract electronics manufacturer, fell by 10 per cent, its largest one-day drop in 20 years.

• Assets seen as havens in times of market stress gained. Gold, the Swiss franc and Japanese yen rose while government bonds rallied. Oil prices pulled back with Brent crude down 2.5 per cent to $58.30 a barrel.

6,000 held on cruise ship in Italian port

Miles Johnson in Rome reports:

A cruise ship with about 6,000 people on board is being held in an Italian port near Rome after a Chinese couple on board were suspected by medical staff of displaying symptoms of coronavirus.

The Costa Smeralda cruise ship operated by the Italian company Costa Crociere has been stopped from docking at the port of Civitavecchia as medical staff on board assess the symptoms of the 54-year-old woman from Macau, and her partner, the company said in a statement.

The two were placed in isolation on the onboard hospital last night, the company said, adding that the Costa Smeralda ship arrived from Palma de Mallorca in Spain before arriving in Civitavecchia.

“Our priority is to guarantee the health and safety of our passengers and crew,” the company said.

Emoticon British citizens in Wuhan to leave on Friday morning

The FT’s Tom Hancock in Wuhan and Laura Hughes in London report:

Hundreds of British citizens trapped in Wuhan, the Chinese city at the centre of the deadly coronavirus outbreak, have been told they will fly out on Friday morning after days of agonising delays.

The 200 people who had registered for the evacuation were informed by the Foreign Office that the flight was scheduled to leave the city’s international airport at 5am. This was confirmed by Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary.

They were told that there would be a two-week quarantine upon arrival, but received no details about where that would be. They will be medically screened before boarding the flight.

Earlier on Thursday, British citizens in Wuhan were informed by text message that their flight, scheduled for that morning, was “delayed” with no details provided.
Downing Street said the flight had not taken off as UK officials “haven’t got the necessary clearances and we are working with the Chinese authorities on securing those”.

The US completed an evacuation flight with 210 citizens on board on Tuesday, while Japan has held two evacuation flights. France and the EU said they would jointly send two planes to the city, but their departure times have not been confirmed.

Updates from Europe and Asia

Some more news lines from the FT’s foreign correspondents. James Shotter in Warsaw and Stefania Palma in Singapore have the latest:

• Czech officials said they have stopped accepting visa applications in China, and are also considering halting direct flights in an effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus. The Czech Republic has not yet had any confirmed cases of the virus.

• Singapore has reported three additional confirmed cases, taking the total to 13. They are all Chinese nationals who travelled from Wuhan.

Clarity on virus begins to emerge from fresh scientific research

Clive Cookson, Science Editor, reports:

Several Chinese research groups have recently released analyses of the new coronavirus epidemic. These begin to provide a more secure scientific understanding on which to base policy, though there are still many uncertainties.

The most comprehensive paper, published online today by the New England Journal of Medicine comes from the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in Beijing. It analyses the first 425 confirmed cases in Wuhan and concludes that the mean incubation period was 5.2 days.

“Our preliminary estimate for the incubation period distribution provides important evidence to support a 14-day medical observation period or quarantine for exposed persons,” the researchers say.

Perhaps the most striking finding is that, while about half the cases were in people aged over 60, there was not a single case recorded in a child under 15. The researchers say it is not clear whether children are less likely than adults to be infected or whether they show milder symptoms.

The CCDC team calculates that the reproductive number – the average number of people infected by each patient – was 2.2. That is lower than some other studies, including one posted online by a different Chinese group, which puts the reproductive number at 4.08. The higher the number, the harder it will be to stop the epidemic.

Volkswagen delays China production restart

Tom Hancock reports from Wuhan:

Volkswagen has said it is delaying a return to production of its vehicles in China for at least another week as a result of the government’s extension of the lunar new year holiday.

The national holiday period had been due to end today but authorities on Sunday said it would be extended to February 2 as they scrambled to contain the coronavirus outbreak.

Volkswagen said as a result it would now not resume production at its joint venture with Chinese automaker FAW before February 9, while its SAIC joint venture in Shanghai is expected to restart production on February 10.

Wilbur Ross: Virus to ‘help accelerate return of jobs to North America’

The US commerce secretary has said the coronavirus could help drive a return of jobs to North America as the virus, which has killed 170 people in China so far, gives companies a reason to reconsider their supply chain.

Here are remarks from Wilbur Ross, made in an interview with Fox Business:

Every American’s heart has to go out to the victims of the coronavirus so I don’t want to talk about a victory lap over a very unfortunate, very malignant disease. But the fact is it does give businesses yet another thing to consider when they go through their review of their supply chain on top of all the other things. Because you had Sars, you have the African swine virus there, now you have this, it’s another risk factor that people need to take into account. I think it will help to accelerate the return of jobs to North America, some to US and probably some to Mexico as well.

The US this week scotched the idea of a visit by Mr Ross to China.

Emoticon Wall Street opens lower

US shares have opened lower as fears over the impact of the coronavirus weigh on global markets.

The S&P 500 fell 0.7 per cent, while the Dow slipped 0.5 per cent and the tech-weighted Nasdaq was down 0.7 per cent.

The moves on Wall Street were less pronounced than elsewhere. European shares were off around 1 per cent moments ago, while Asia was hit by a significant sell-off. Treasuries were up while other havens, including gold, shone.

What to expect from Thursday’s WHO meeting

Clive Cookson, Science Editor, reports:

World Health Organization experts are meeting in Geneva this afternoon to consider declaring an international emergency over the new coronavirus epidemic. A decision is expected at around 6.30pm GMT.

Although the WHO emergency committee voted by a narrow margin last week against recommending a “public health emergency of international concern” (PHEIC), on the grounds that the disease’s spread beyond China was limited in extent, outside observers will be surprised if it does not change its mind this time.

Declaring a PHEIC would be an important symbolic step, signalling how seriously the world takes the epidemic, and in practical terms would make it easier for the WHO to co-ordinate the responses of governments around the world to the crisis.

Michael Ryan, executive director of the WHO emergencies programme, told a press briefing in Geneva yesterday that this would prevent the chaos of different countries implementing unilateral trade and travel measures in an effort to stem the spread of the new coronavirus.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, does not like the way current international health regulations force the organisation to make a bilateral decision – “PHEIC or no PHEIC, green or red.” He said: “There should be an intermediate position: green, yellow or red.”

Emoticon Offshore renminbi breaks back past Rmb7

China’s currency has dropped back below Rmb7 to the dollar, having briefly hit the landmark earlier in the trading day for the first time this year. The offshore renminbi, which trades in major hubs outside mainland China, has fallen more than 2 per cent since January 20.

The renminbi’s fresh slide came as risk assets took a turn lower, with the Stoxx Europe 600 recently 1.2 per cent lower and the S&P 500 0.8 per cent lower and around session lows.

Yields on the US 10-year Treasury note were recently three basis points lower and at its lowest since October as investors moved into the government debt.

United Airlines announces further cuts to US-China routes

United Airlines has taken further steps to scale back flights between its US hub cities and Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong as fallout from the coronavirus spreads.

A second phase of temporary reductions, announced on Thursday morning, will run from February 7 through March 28 and will include an additional 332 roundtrip cancellations, which the carrier said would reduce the number of daily departures from the US to mainland to China to four from 12.

Earlier this week, United said it would suspend flights between its US hubs and Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong between February 1 and 8, and that its 12 daily flights between the US and China would drop by about three or four per day.

Numerous other global airlines including British Airways, Air Canada and Cathay Pacific have suspended or greatly reduced the number of flights to and from mainland China.

Coronavirus spreads at slower rate than pathogens in other recent outbreaks

The FT’s Federica Cocco and Graham Parrish have crunched the numbers, and found the novel coronavirus spreads at a less aggressive pace than the pathogens that have caused other recent outbreaks.

Doctors’ group urges governments to bolster supply chain

FT science correspondent Clive Cookson writes:

World Medical Association, the international doctors’ body, has urged governments and the World Health Organisation to set up an international supply chain for medicines and supplies to help health professionals fight coronavirus.

Frank Ulrich Montgomery, chair of the WMA Council, said:

We have received urgent requests from our member associations in the Asian region about a dangerous shortage of medical supplies to prevent infection of health professionals. Gloves, masks, detergents, single use coats and cloaks are all in short supply.

Messages from China, Hong Kong and other Asian countries indicate the need for a diversification of international supply chains to reduce dependency from one country or region, or in extreme cases just from one producer. There also needs to be a decentralised stockpiling of necessary goods for emergency preparedness and a revision of dangerous cost containment laws which in the past have led to a cut in expenditure for emergency preparedness.

Fitch warns virus to deal ‘significant’ blow to Macau casinos

Fitch ratings has said the impact of the coronavirus on the cash flow of Macau’s gaming operators will be “significant”, but added that major players should be able to withstand some of the pressure and it does not foresee widespread downgrades.

The warning comes after Las Vegas Sands, citing public reports, said on Wednesday that visits to Macau have dropped 80 per cent since the outbreak began. China’s authorities are also restricting visas for travel to Macau and Macau’s regulators are also restricting transport to and from the only legal gambling hub in greater China.

Fitch, said:

Assuming first-quarter and second-quarter 2020 revenue from Macau declines by 50 per cent and 25 per cent, respectively, the combined hit to the four operators’ cash flow would be $2bn relative to about $11bn of ebitda and $1.3bn of free cash flow. Fitch previously forecast under a status quo 2020 scenario. …The aforementioned operators have ample debt capacity and/or cash to fund the cash impact of the virus within the context of their rating or credit opinion sensitivity thresholds.

The rating agency, added:

Long lasting effects on Macau’s tourism beyond the period of the outbreak are not anticipated. Assuming the outbreak does not last more than two quarters, 2019-nCoV will mainly have a temporary cash flow impact on casino operators.

Roche develops first commercial test for coronavirus

Sarah Neville, global pharmaceuticals editor

Roche, the Swiss pharma company, has developed what it believes is the first commercially available diagnostic test for coronavirus. It is already being used in hospitals and is highly effective, according to Thomas Schinecker, head of the company’s diagnostics division.

He told the FT the test, developed with Tib Molbiol, a Berlin-based company that specialises in developing assays was “extremely precise”, involving multiple processes to differentiate between other coronarviruses and the current strain. While some hospitals had developed their own tests, the company’s was the first to be produced at scale, he suggested.

Earlier he had told a media briefing in Basel that the genetic sequence involved was “so related to other viruses; that is why you have to look at multiple parts of the gene to really identify the virus”.

The company had a team in place constantly monitoring for signs that diseases around the world, such as the coronavirus, had mutated. “These viruses constantly mutate so you need to make sure your test is appropriate, so we have a team that is constantly doing that and collecting all the data worldwide”, he added.

Experience with SARS, MERS and Ebola outbreaks had shown “the diagnostic plays a hugely important role” in ensuring the right people were isolated. “We are the ones reacting very fast”, he added, noting that Roche had donated “a lot of instruments and kits already in China” as well as to other parts of the world.

However, Severin Schwan, Roche chief executive, warned that travel restrictions in place in China were affecting the company’s ability to get its testing kits where they were needed.

He said: “When it comes to diagnostic systems and tests we still have to bring those to the point of care, to the hospitals”. Roche was working closely with the authorities “and they do find ways but it is something we really have to focus on”, he added.

Air France latest carrier to scrap China flights

Michael Pooler in Paris

Air France has suspended all scheduled flights to and from China, joining a list of carriers that have reduced or cancelled services to the country as the impact of the coronavirus epidemic widens.

The French airline said the decision was taken “after careful consideration of the developing situation” and would apply until February 9.

It follows rivals including British Airways, Lufthansa and Cathay Pacific, which have either stopped or scaled back direct flights to the mainland in response to the deadly epidemic.

From Friday, Air France said that it will operate special services to and from Beijing and Shanghai, staffed by volunteer crew members, “in order to permit customers and employees to return safely.”

It had previously suspended flights to and from Wuhan, the city at the centre of the outbreak, and said this ban would remain in place until further notice.

The first detected case of coronavirus in Europe was confirmed in France last week and health authorities say they have now identified five infected people in the country. Cases have also been confirmed in Germany (four) and Finland (one).

Air France’s sister brand KLM also announced on Thursday it was suspending flights to Beijing and Shanghai after this weekend until 9 February, but indicated there would be services to prevent travellers being stranded.

The Dutch carrier said flights departing from Amsterdam on Sunday were “intended to give as many customers as possible the opportunity to return to Amsterdam from Beijing and Shanghai.”

The two airlines are owned by the Franco-Dutch group Air France-KLM.

Air France added that customers with a booking to or from China on or before February 9 could change their flight until 31 May or request a refund.

CDC confirms first US case of person-to-person transmission of coronavirus

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed the first case of person-to-person transmission of the virus.

The new patient is the spouse of the 60-year-old woman in Chicago who was diagnosed after returning last month from Wuhan, China. US health officials however pointed out the spread was “among two people who were in close contact for an extended period of time”.

Six people in the US have now been diagnosed with the virus. The CDC said it does not recommend the use of face masks to prevent the spread of the virus.

Person-to-person transmission of the virus has already been recorded in Taiwan, Vietnam and Japan. Hong Kong also has one potential case of person-to-person transmission, although the authorities have not yet confirmed this.

Recession indicator flashes red as virus stokes fears of slowdown

Colby Smith, US Markets reporter

A widely-watched recession indicator flashed red on Thursday, as the intensifying coronavirus outbreak revived fears of a global growth slowdown that could eventually spill over into the US economy and add yet another weight restraining inflation.

For the first time since October, the yield on three-month US Treasury bills jumped above that of the benchmark 10-year note. The gap widened to minus 2.8 basis points after the yield on the 10-year slipped to 1.5 per cent. An inversion of this portion of the yield curve — which measures the difference between short and long-term yields — has preceded every recession of the last half century.

Fearing the economic damage from the fast-spreading coronavirus, investors eschewed global equities and sought the relative safety of government debt, sending yields, which move inversely to price, lower.

“Every morning we have a new number that seems to be double the previous number and that gets people on edge and gets people wondering . . . how many more millions of people will be quarantined?” said Kathy Jones, chief fixed-income strategist at Charles Schwab.


WHO declares international public health emergency over outbreak

The World Health Organization on Thursday declared an international public health emergency over the coronavirus outbreak.

Tedros Adhanom, Director-General of the World Health Organization, said:

We don’t know what sort of damage this #2019nCoV virus could do if it were to spread in a country with a weaker health system. We must act now to help countries prepare for that possibility. For all of these reasons, I am declaring a public health emergency of international concern over the global outbreak of 2019nCoV.

Another airline suspends China flights

Tanya Powley writes:

UK’s Virgin Atlantic has become the latest airline to suspend its flights to and from China, as carriers worldwide respond to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.

The airline on Thursday evening said it had decided to suspend daily operations to Shanghai from February 2 for a period of 14 days.

Its last return flight to the UK from Shanghai will arrive at Heathrow Airport on February 3.

A spokesperson for Virgin Atlantic said: “This decision is based on our close monitoring of the ongoing situation, coupled with a declining demand to fly, and we will continue to evaluate this over the coming days and weeks.”

The airline added that flights to Hong Kong continue to operate as scheduled.

It follows rivals including British Airways, Air France, Lufthansa and Cathay Pacific, which have either stopped or scaled back direct flights to the mainland in response to the deadly epidemic.

American Airlines pilots’ union sues to halt China flights

The union representing American Airlines’ 15,000 pilots is suing the company in an effort to stop flights to and from China.

In a lawsuit filed in Texas, the Allied Pilots Association is seeking a temporary restraining order to immediately stop US-China service, citing “serious, and in many ways still unknown, health threats posed by the coronavirus.”

American Airlines operates about 56 monthly flights between Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport and China, according to the union.

“We estimate that as many as 300 passengers and crew travel to DFW alone from Chinese cities on each American Airlines flight,” said Eric Ferguson, the union’s president. “To us, that level of risk is unacceptable.”

American Airlines has previously said it will cancel flights between Los Angeles and China from February 9 to March 27, noting a “significant decline in demand.”

In a statement, American Airlines said it is aware of the lawsuit and is in close contact with public health officials “to make sure we are taking all necessary precautions for our customers and team members.”

“We will continue to monitor the situation and make any updates as needed,” the company said.

Italian cruise ship gets all-clear after coronavirus scare

Miles Johnson writes:

An Italian cruise operator which had stopped one of its ships from landing in a port near Rome due to a suspected case of coronavirus has said the illness suffered by a couple on board was a case of the common flu.

Costa Cruises, which earlier on Thursday had said it had stopped one of its ships carrying around 6,000 passengers from docking in the Italian port of Civitavecchia due a Chinese couple who had shown symptoms of the virus, said Italian health authorities had given the all-clear.

“While we appreciate the inconvenience caused, the procedures in force and our cooperation with the health authorities were effective in managing this situation and were intended to ensure maximum safety for all our guests, crew and the community as a whole,” the company said in a statement.