Closed First case of Covid-19 in London confirmed — as it happened

FILE PHOTO: Cruise ship Diamond Princess at Daikoku Pier Cruise Terminal in Yokohama

Live coverage of the coronavirus outbreak from the FT

Japan quarantine officer among 39 new coronavirus cases on cruise ship

Robin Harding reports from Tokyo:

A quarantine officer working on the Diamond Princess cruise ship has caught the coronavirus as Japan confirmed another 39 infections among the passengers of the stricken ship. That takes the total number of cases on board to 174 out of 492 passengers tested.

Those infected will be moved to hospital. The Diamond Princess, which still has more than 3,500 passengers and crew on board, has been in quarantine in Yokohama since February 3.

US postal deliveries to China and Hong Kong disrupted

Primrose Riordan reports:

The US Postal Service has said its deliveries to both mainland China and Hong Kong have been disrupted due to the coronavirus outbreak.

A number of airlines have suspended flights to China and last week American Airlines temporarily suspended flights to Hong Kong from Dallas and Los Angeles.
In a statement, USPS said it could not guarantee some of its deliveries due to the flight cancellations.

“USPS will be temporarily suspending the guarantee on priority mail express international destines for China and Hong Kong, effective Monday February 10, 2020, due to widespread airline cancellations and restrictions into this area,” the service said.

Vitamin maker Blackmores says coronavirus disruptions will hit profits

Jamie Smyth reports from Sydney:

Australian vitamin producer Blackmores warned on Wednesday that the coronavirus outbreak in China and problems at one of its manufacturing plants would dent full year profits, prompting a 16 per cent plunge in its share price.

The Sydney-based company said it expects to make A$17-21m ($11.4m-14.1m) net profit after tax in full-year 2020, down from A$53m a year earlier. Disruption linked to the coronavirus is expected to last at least 2-3 months, said Blackmores.

“While the outbreak has resulted in increased demand for key immunity products in Australia and Asia, the impact of the sales has been countered by supply chain disruptions across the region as a result of the contagion,” said Alastair Symington, Blackmores chief executive.

Blackmores said some e-commerce partners have cancelled or modified February promotions with a slowdown of China inbound and internal freight, which has made it difficult to serve the local market demand with much needed profit.

Blackmores shares were down 16.5 per cent at A$74.68 in morning trading on the ASX.

US security adviser says China has snubbed American health officials

Katrina Manson reports from Washington:

US national security adviser Robert O’Brien said in a talk at the Atlantic Council that China still will not let US health officials in to help with the coronavirus outbreak, and that China is still relentless in its efforts to compete with the US even as it tries to deal with the virus.

Mr O’Brien said he expects the virus will have some effects on the global supply chain as China plays a “critical role in the world economy”. “We’ll have to wait and see how it plays out and whether alternate suppliers can be found…There’s no doubt that the virus could have an impact on the US economy and also on the world economy,” he said.

The virus could also have an effect on the recently signed “Phase 1” trade deal between the US and China.

“It’s not going to change the Phase 1 deal…We’ll have to see how that plays out,” said O’Brien, adding that China needed to import more food partly because of a swine flu outbreak that has hurt the domestic pork industry. “We expect the Phase 1 deal will allow China to import more food and open those markets to American farmers, but certainly as we watch this coronavirus outbreak unfold in China it could have an impact on how big, at least in this current year, the purchases are.”

Mr O’Brien added that the US is worried about Uighurs, a mostly Muslim ethnic group, in camps being vulnerable to the coronavirus. Scholars last year estimated that about 1.5 million Uighurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Hui and other mostly Muslim minorities in China had been interned in camps.

“We’re worried about them [Uighurs] now as this corona outbreak takes place. What’s going to happen to the Uighurs in the concentration camps living in close quarters? Are they going to get the medical treatment they need? Are they going to be isolated from the spread of the virus? We don’t know; we’re not on the ground there.”

Japan to refuse entry to travellers from China’s Zhejiang province

Robin Harding reports from Tokyo:

Japan plans to refuse entry to anyone who has recently travelled to Zhejiang province in China as it steps up its efforts to keep out the coronavirus.

Prime minister Shinzo Abe announced the decision at a meeting of the government’s anti-coronavirus task force on Wednesday morning, expanding its restrictions beyond Hubei province, where the virus originated.

Zhejiang is a coastal province of China, hundreds of kilometres from Hubei, and has reported 1,131 cases of coronavirus to date according to figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University.


Number of confirmed cases in China climbs above 44,000

The number of confirmed coronavirus infections in China has hit 44,653, a rise of 2,015 from the previous day. The death toll has increased by 97 to 1,113.

The data, which track confirmed cases and deaths as of the end of the day on Tuesday, come after the head of the World Health Organization said on Tuesday the outbreak poses a “very grave threat for the rest of the world” and China struggles to contain the outbreak.

Australia monitors Indonesia as Jakarta says it has no coronavirus cases

Primrose Riordan reports from Hong Kong:

Australia health authorities said they are monitoring whether the coronavirus had hit Indonesia after the country insisted again it did not have any cases yesterday — in contrast to other nations in Southeast Asia.

Australia’s deputy chief medical officer Paul Kelly said authorities had discussions with Indonesia on Tuesday.

“We worked with Indonesian authorities yesterday and confirmed they did have testing available both in their reference laboratory in Jakarta and also in regional laboratories including Surabaya so that’s available,” Mr Kelly said.

“So far the official stance from Jakarta and from Indonesia is they have no cases and we’re monitoring that on a daily basis.”

Indonesian authorities said it has tested samples of suspected cases and has previously evacuated and quarantined Indonesian citizens who were in Hubei, the Chinese province where Wuhan is located.

Asia stocks and oil rise as coronavirus concerns ease

Stocks in the Asia-Pacific region rose on Wednesday amid optimism over efforts to contain the coronavirus outbreak and after US equities reached a record.

China reported the death toll from the outbreak has risen to 1,113 and that the number of cases had hit 44,653 infections, but it also reported what appeared to be a slowing number of new cases in Hubei, where the virus was first detected.

In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng index was on track to record a second day of gains, up 0.7 per cent while China’s CSI 300 was up 0.3 per cent. The Topix in Japan, however was the outlier, down 0.1 per cent

“While contagion rates appear to be slowing, the physical measures taken to combat its spread are more stringent than Sars and may bite harder into economic activity,” Fidelity International said in a note.

Overnight on Wall Street, the S&P 500 ended the day 0.2 per cent higher at a new record high.

Oil prices, which had been hit by a fall in demand from China as the country extended the lunar new year break in a bid to control the virus, climbed. Brent crude was up 1.7 per cent.

Anna Stupnytska, Fidelity International head of global macro, forecasts global growth could fall by at least half a percentage point in the first quarter with “some recovery thereafter”.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, World Health Organization chief, warned on Tuesday that 99 per cent of cases are currently in China, but that the virus “holds a very grave threat for the rest of the world” on the first day of a two-day meeting of experts in Geneva.

Coronavirus search interest recedes further from January peak

Search interest for the term ‘coronavirus’ has eased further from its late-January high, according to new data from Google.

Analysts and investors have been paying close attention to search traffic related to the outbreak as something of a gauge for global concern over the topic. It had peaked in late January, but has been fallen steadily ever since.

The data, which record search activity from when the outbreak began generating headlines in mid-January through February 9, help explain why financial analysts are feeling a bit less anxious about the outbreak. Markets in Asia (and especially Hong Kong) have recovered markedly from their recent lows.

Still, many investors remain wary. “We are reaching a critical moment,” said Alan Ruskin, a macro strategist at Deutsche Bank.

Ask yourself the question: what is the probability that either i) China fails to contain the virus domestically within a few weeks; and/or ii) there is a loss of control, or cluster in centers outside of China with global economic ramifications?

Singapore’s biggest bank evacuates 300 staff

Stefania Palma reports:

DBS, Singapore’s largest bank, has evacuated 300 staff from its headquarters after one employee tested positive for the coronavirus.

All employees working on the same floor as the infected individual have left Marina Bay Financial Centre Tower 3 and will be working from home as a precautionary measure, DBS said in a statement, adding it is tracing everyone the case may have come into contact with.

Those who have been in close contact with the patient will be working from home for 14 days, as per the ministry of health’s guidelines, said a person familiar with the situation.

The bank is deep cleaning and disinfecting the affected office space as well as lifts and toilets. DBS next week will give all staff a care pack including vitamin C, masks, a thermometer and hand sanitiser.

Other measures including temperature screening, a medical helpline, and more frequent cleaning were already in place, the bank said. DBS had already implemented “business continuity plans” involving splitting up teams and having some staff work from home.

At 47, Singapore has among the highest number of confirmed cases outside China.

Hong Kong property sales hit by coronavirus jitters

Nicolle Liu and Primrose Riordan report from Hong Kong:

The founder of a major Hong Kong real estate company, Centaline Property, said buyers could make big gains like those who bought apartments during the 2003 SARS epidemic if the property market dropped further due to the coronavirus.

“If there is a drop of 15 per cent or more, it should be a good time to enter the market. Those who entered the market last time during the SARS have gained a lot afterwards,” Shih Wing-ching, founder of Centaline Property, said on a blog post on his company’s website.

The Hong Kong property market has often been rated the most overvalued market globally, but real estate agents say the virus, which has come on top of the major protest movement which began last year, has slowed sales.

Richard Lee, chief executive at agent Hong Kong Property Services, said there were only 22 second-hand sales in the 20 major housing estates from 3 to 9 February.

Mr Shih said apartment viewing had “almost stopped” due to the virus.

With people avoiding leaving the house and working from home, the city’s retailers are coming under even more pressure than they did during the protest movement.

Sun Hung Kai Properties said they will lower February base rent by between 30 and 50 percent for their shopping mall tenants who are facing difficulties, especially those in catering.

The city’s largest developer by value said in a statement on Wednesday that they hope the measures can help stabilise the economy and protect employment.

A Hong Kong real estate developers lobby group said its members would be offering rent concessions “on a case by case basis” without offering details.

European stocks hit new records

Markets are marching higher for yet another session.

European stocks rose in early trading, as investor concerns over the coronavirus continued to recede amid hopes the rate of infections is slowing.

The Stoxx Europe 600 index rose 0.1 per cent to a record high soon after the open, following a strong session in Asia and yet more records on Wall Street. The index tracking Europe’s biggest companies is set for its sixth day of gains out of seven.

Craig Nicol, a strategist at Deutsche Bank, said one reason for the fresh optimism was that there has been an “encouraging sign that the virus outbreak might be plateauing in China” after Hubei province, the outbreak’s epicentre, recorded its lowest level of overnight cases this month.

Global markets have raced higher in recent sessions as investors bank on the virus’s economic impact being a short shock that is contained to the Asia-Pacific region, and that central banks stand ready to act in the event of a wider hit. The Federal Reserve’s chairman Jay Powell said the central bank was “closely monitoring” the risks to the US economy in testimony on Tuesday. While European and US markets have hit records in recent sessions, Asian stocks are still off their January highs.

In a report released overnight, S&P Global said it expects there to be “a short-term effect” on Chinese and global growth.

We expect there will be a short-term effect on China’s and global GDP growth, as well as some economic cost for industries most exposed to Chinese household spending and the increasing containment measures more broadly.

For now, it appears the financial markets are generally optimistic as they assess the scale of the outbreak.

In another sign of decreasing investor concern, traditional haven assets dipped, with gold falling 0.2 per cent to $1565.25 per troy ounce and the yield on the benchmark US 10-year Treasury rising three basis points to 1.623 per cent as investors moved out of the debt. The yield had touched as low as 1.5 per cent at the end of January at the height of market concerns over the virus.

Luxury group Kering says measuring virus impact currently ‘impossible’

Leila Abboud reports from Paris:

French luxury group Kering, owner of the Gucci brand, has said “particularly uncertain conditions” touched off by the coronavirus in China could affect its business this year, but that it remained confident in its longer-term growth potential.

The outbreak of the coronavirus in China is expected to weigh on the luxury sector, although the extent will depend on the length of the crisis.

Jefferies reckons that Chinese buyers, who shop domestically or when travelling abroad, accounted for roughly 40 per cent of the €281bn spent on luxury goods globally last year, but drove 80 per cent of the growth.

Commenting as the group released better than expected fourth-quarter results, Kering chief executive François-Henri Pinault said:

Our environment has changed significantly with the coronavirus outbreak. Due to the evolving nature of the situation, it is impossible at this time to fully evaluate the impact on business and how fast it will recover.

I do not want to engage in guesswork . . . but we expect things to return to normal promptly once the emergency is over.

Riksbank predicts coronavirus will lower global growth in short term

Sweden’s Riksbank said the effects of the coronavirus outbreak are expected to reduce global growth in the short term.

The central bank on Wednesday left its key policy rate as forecast at 0 per cent.

“The effects of the coronavirus are expected to reduce global growth in the short term, but it is difficult at present to fully assess the economic consequences,” the central bank said.

The krona was up 0.1 per cent against the euro in early trading. The forecast for the repo rate is the same as in December, the Riksbank added, and the rate is expected be unchanged during almost the entire forecast period.

Emoticon Chinese GP set to be postponed

Murad Ahmed reports:

Formula One’s Chinese Grand Prix, due to be held in Shanghai in April, is set to be postponed because of the outbreak of coronavirus.

Chinese authorities need to formally request the postponement from F1, the world’s premier motor-racing series, and the FIA, the global motorsports governing body. But such a request is expected to be made and a decision announced within the next few hours, according to a person with knowledge of the decision.

The move follows the cancellation of World Athletics Indoor Championships in Nanjing and the Formula E electric car race in Sanya that had been scheduled for March.

China seizes hotels, hospitals and cars to fight coronavirus

Ryan McMorrow and Sun Yu in Beijing report:

Chinese authorities have begun emergency requisitioning of private hospitals, hotels, apartments, cars and even face masks as the country’s rising number of coronavirus patients threatens to overwhelm local government facilities.

But the measures, particularly the requisitioning of hospitals, have left some people with other life-threatening diseases without critical care, creating what one relative of a cancer patient affected by the seizures described as a “humanitarian” disaster.

China’s southern industrial hub of Guangzhou this week joined a host of other big city governments such as Zhengzhou, Fuzhou and Xi’an in passing emergency legislation for requisitioning.

In Wuhan, the centre of the outbreak, local authorities have seized offices, student dormitories and other hospitals to create more beds for coronavirus patients.

“Wuhan’s health system has collapsed because of the epidemic. The government has basically ignored other diseases,” said city resident Liu Congfeng, whose mother-in-law was suffering from cancer but had lost her hospital bed to coronavirus patients.

Read the full story on the emergency requisitioning here.

Virologist warns case numbers are ‘tip of the iceberg’

Katharine Gemmell reports:

Professor Neil Ferguson, director of the MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis at Imperial College London, has said that global case numbers “are the tip of the iceberg” and “we are in the early phases of a global pandemic”.

He believes that, because current surveillance is focused on travellers rather than local transmissions, authorities are only picking up one in three cases coming into the UK.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme, Mr Ferguson estimated that transmissions will rise in the UK in the next few weeks and peak two or three months after that.

If it truly establishes itself, in terms of community person to person transmission, it will behave a lot like a flu pandemic, with maybe up to 60 per cent of the population getting infected. But most of those people having very, very mild symptoms.

John Oxford, emeritus professor of virology at Queen Mary, University of London, said that he is not looking towards a vaccine, due to how long that will take to develop.

Instead, he suggested restricting social actions with less hand-shaking, hugging and kissing, as he thinks it is likely spread by “ordinary tidal breathing”.

Mr Oxford suggested that the international community could “grapple with this illness” but said it should have developed a vaccine in 2003 after the Sars outbreak.

NZ central bank expects impact of virus to be short-lived

New Zealand’s central bank said this morning that some parts of the country’s economy were being “significantly affected” by the coronavirus outbreak but that it expects the overall impact of the outbreak will not last long.

The Reserve Bank of New Zealand said the country had experienced ripple effects from the hit to growth in China, its biggest trading partner: tourist numbers have dropped off and prices for its meat and dairy exports have been under pressure.

But it expects the domestic effects of the virus to be “short-lived” with goods and service exports recovering to their original levels by the final quarter of the year.

Its outlook assumes no major outbreak of the virus within New Zealand and progress being made in containing it abroad by the end of this month, though it acknowledged worldwide understanding of the duration and impact of the outbreak was changing quickly.

The New Zealand dollar, which has been under pressure this year as a result of the outbreak, has rallied more than 1 per cent against the dollar today to become the best performing major currency according to Bloomberg data. The central bank kept rates on hold and outlined a relatively optimistic forecast.

Impact on aviation industry ‘may exceed’ Sars

Global aviation stocks have fallen just 1.6 per cent, on average, since January 23, when many Chinese provinces began reporting Coronavirus cases.

Still, reporters at our Tokyo-based sister title the Nikkei Asian Review have calculated that the coronavirus outbreak has slashed China’s air connections with the rest of the world by about two-thirds.

This means the impact on the global aviation industry could be more serious than that of the SARS virus in 2003.

Why? NAR reporters Yusho Cho and Kazuhiro Kida explain:

Nikkei compiled the figures by looking at 15,600 flights arriving at 80 mainland China airports with international connections after Jan. 25, using data from aviation consultancy Cirium. From this past Sunday to Tuesday, airlines operated an average of 343 routes a day, down sharply from the 1,037 routes they had from Jan. 26 to 28, before the emergency was declared.

The impact on the aviation industry may be even bigger than it was during the SARS epidemic in 2003. That April, immediately after the outbreak, passenger numbers in the Asia-Pacific region dropped 45% on the year, according to the International Air Transport Association.

This time, through Tuesday, a total of 7,500 flights had been canceled, affecting 1.2 million one-way passengers and 2.4 million round-trip travelers.

Read more here

ECB chief economist warns of ‘significant’ short-term economic hit

Laura Noonan reports from Dublin:

The coronavirus is a “wildcard” that could produce a “pretty significant short-term hit on the economy”, the European Central Bank’s chief economist Philip Lane told an event in Dublin on Wednesday morning.

Addressing the European Financial Forum in Dublin, Mr Lane said that evidence from previous health crises suggested a sharp hit in the short term as projects were paused, but added that the hits were typically followed by a “significant bounceback” once the crisis passes.

“We’re keeping a very close eye on this,” he said, adding that forward guidance, which the ECB uses to communicate the likely future path of interest rates, could do “quite a bit for these kind of intermediate events”.

The ECB’s president Christine Lagarde last week said that the coronavirus created a “new layer of uncertainty” but did not outline new policy measures.

Latest Hong Kong case has links to the ‘hotpot clan’

Hong Kong has reported its 50th case of the virus, while also signalling that local transmission is become an increasingly significant risk compared to that of infections being brought over the border by people traveling from mainland China.

The latest case is a kitchen worker who is also a colleague of a member of what the local media call the “hotpot clan,” writes Nicolle Liu in Hong Kong. This is a group of eleven relatives who all contracted the virus after sharing a hotpot – a communal meal popular in Chinese societies where diners drop meats and vegetables in a spiced, shared pot before using chopsticks to transfer the cooked items into their own bowls.

Also, a first infected patient has been discharged from the hospital. He is 25 years old and tested negative for the virus after treatments, according to the hospital authority.

The chart below, from Hong Kong’s health authority, shows the current distribution of cases that were potentially transmitted locally, versus imported cases. The imported cases, shown in blue, have been a more significant feature of previous versions of the chart.

The distribution may have been affected by a decision by the Hong Kong government on February 3 to close most border crossings from mainland China. The city’s airport, the port of Shenzhen Bay and the bridge connecting Hong Kong to Macau and Zhuhai were left open, but people who have been to mainland China in the past 14 days have to undergo compulsory quarantine.

Could this signal the end to history’s longest stock rally?

As stock markets breathlessly claim record after record and some global indexes head for their biggest monthly rise in a year, a note of warning seeps out. Could this be the death knell, the final gasp, of the longest stock rally in history?

As Rabobank analysts caution: “The speed of market’s recovery from the sell-off caused by the outbreak of the coronavirus implies that we could be in the last stage of already the longest stock rally in the history of financial markets.”

Europe’s Stoxx 600, at an all-time high, picked up 0.4 per cent in Wednesday trading, collecting its seventh rise in eight sessions. The composite of Europe’s largest companies is on track for its biggest percentage monthly rise since January last year.

The CSI 300 barometer of stocks traded in Shanghai and Shenzhen, still 5 per cent off its January highs, has nonetheless recovered sharply this month, as has Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index. The S&P 500 rose to a record for a second day on Tuesday and, according to its futures, is poised to add another 0.3 per cent when Wall Street opens.

This is the phase, says Piotr Matys, senior emerging markets foreign exchange strategist at the Dutch bank, when “negative news tends to be very quickly discounted”.

Hardly any bears remain, he says. “And those very few are often regarded as ‘sore losers’ who missed a great opportunity to make a fortune by going long. The fear of missing out is strong as reflected in very short-lived corrections followed by strong rebounds that produce new record highs.”

He claims that, while it is tricky to time the next global financial crisis correctly, one is “long overdue”.

“It has been postponed by a strong commitment from major central banks to keep bailing out the markets whenever there is even a relatively small correction.

That said, interest rates have barely increased since the last crisis, leaving central banks with far less room for manoeuvre at the time when even central bankers are increasingly concerned about the side effects of unconventional monetary policy tools.

Singapore reports new cases

Singapore has reported three new confirmed cases, taking the total to 50.

They include three Singaporean citizens, none of whom have recent travel history to China.

Two male patients aged 34 and 46 both worked at two locations for the Grace Assembly of God church. The third case is a 62 year old male DBS employee. The bank earlier on Wednesday evacuated 300 staff after realising an employee had become infected.

The ministry of health said a total of 15 cases have fully recovered and have been discharged while eight are in critical condition. The remaining patients are mostly stable or improving.

“While most infected patients will recover, some may get seriously ill, and a small number may succumb to the infection ultimately,” said Gan Kim Yong, Singapore’s health minister. “We have to be prepared for the worst”.

Test results for 125 suspect cases are pending. Eight locally transmitted cases so far show no travel history to mainland China or links to previous cases.

Deutsche Telekom and Nokia pull out of Barcelona conference

Deutsche Telekom, BT and Nokia have joined rivals and other technology behemoths such as Intel, Amazon and Facebook in dropping out of the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona due to their concerns over the coronavirus outbreak.

HMD Global, the business behind Nokia phones, pulled out on Wednesday.

“We value our participation in important industry groups like GSMA and deeply respect the steps they have already taken to protect attendees,” BT said in its statement on Wednesday. “Unfortunately, the most responsible decision is to withdraw our participation from the event to safeguard our employees and customers.”

The latest withdrawals from the conference, which attracts as many as 110,000 through its doors every year, ply pressure on the organisers to see if they go ahead with the conference as scheduled.

Read how the cancellations are rocking the world’s biggest smartphone event.

Others joining the German and Finnish mobile groups in staying away from the jamboree in Barcelona include:

Bouygues Telecom

Cambodia permits cruise ship passengers to disembark

The Westerdam, a cruise ship denied docking rights by five countries because of fears of coronavirus contagion, is sailing for Sihanoukville, a coastal city of Cambodia, where passengers will be allowed to get off and fly home, John Reed in Manila writes.

The ship, which has more than 2,200 passengers and crew on board, set sail from Hong Kong on February 1 and has been turned away by Japan, Taiwan, Guam, the Philippines and Thailand. It has no known cases of the virus on board.

“Westerdam is now sailing for Sihanoukville, Cambodia, where the current cruise will end,” its operator Holland America Line said in a blog post. “We will arrive at 7am local time on Thursday February 13 and will remain in port for several days for disembarkation.”

The cruise line said that guests would be able to go ashore over the next few days and transfer from Phnom Penh, the capital, for forward travel home. It thanked Cambodian authorities for their support.

The Westerdam had become emblematic of the fears surrounding cruise ships’ vulnerability to the novel coronavirus in recent days after Thailand on Tuesday became the latest country to deny it docking rights.

The Diamond Princess, a cruise ship managed by Carnival Corp’s Princess Cruise Lines, with about 3,700 people on board, has been in quarantine in Yokohama’s port since Feb 3. The ship has 175 people, including one quarantine officer, who tested positive for the virus, according to Japan’s health ministry, and passengers have not been allowed to disembark.

Opec cuts oil demand forecasts on virus concerns

Opec has cut its forecast for global oil demand this year, as it warned the coronavirus outbreak in China has added to uncertainty surrounding the world economy.

In its monthly market report, Opec said oil consumption will increase by 990,000 barrels a day this year, which is 200,000 b/d less than it had previously expected.

“The outbreak of the coronavirus in China is the major factor behind this downward revision,” Opec’s researchers said.

The impact of the coronavirus outbreak on China’s economy has added to the uncertainties surrounding global economic growth in 2020, and by extension global oil demand growth in 2020. Clearly, the ongoing developments in China require continuous monitoring and assessment to gauge the implications on the oil market in 2020.

Commodity markets have borne the brunt of investor concerns over the virus’s impact on economic growth. Brent crude has fallen more than 20 per cent off its January peaks, and was recently 2 per cent higher at $55 per barrel.

Latest coronavirus headlines

Here is a round-up of the latest developments in the virus outbreak.

• Chinese authorities have begun emergency requisitioning of private hospitals, hotels, apartments, cars and even face masks as the country’s rising number of coronavirus patients threatens to overwhelm local government facilities. You can read more here.

• The humanitarian cost has continued to mount. More than 1,100 people have died with some 44,000 confirmed to be infected in mainland China. Track the spread of the virus here.

• Opec has cut its forecast for global oil demand this year, as it warned the outbreak in China has added to uncertainty surrounding the world economy.

• Formula One’s Chinese Grand Prix, which was due to be held in April, has been postponed.

• Global stocks rose however, as investor concerns over the outbreak receded further amid hopes the rate of infections is slowing.

Virus to boost demand but disrupt supply chain for US healthcare companies, Moody’s says

The coronavirus outbreak would have mixed credit implications for US healthcare companies, ratings agency Moody’s said. That’s because increased demand for hospital services, drugs and medical products would be offset by supply chain disruptions as generic drug companies source many ingredients from China.

From Moody’s:

With respect to US hospitals, Moody’s says that if the coronavirus were to spread widely in the US, demand for services would increase, but so would costs. Hospitals would likely need to supplement staff with expensive contract labour and cancel more profitable procedures such as orthopedic surgeries.

Many US medical device makers, meanwhile, depend on China for components such as memory chips. If the outbreak isn’t quickly contained, shortages of such items could lead to supply chain disruptions just as demand begins to spike. At the same time, China is an important market for many device and life sciences companies due to its growing population and investments in healthcare and innovation. Focus on coronavirus is likely to temporarily curb demand for many other medical and research products, leading to slower growth for these companies.

UK businessman Steve Walsh discharged from hospital

A British businessman linked to 11 other cases of the disease has been discharged from hospital, the English National Health Service said.

Steve Walsh caught the coronavirus on a trip to Singapore last month and was dubbed a “super-spreader” after people with whom he was connected also fell ill.

Mr Walsh declared himself “fully recovered” yesterday when he spoke out for the first time about his experience.

Carnival says outbreak to deliver ‘material hit’ to 2020 earnings

Carnival said the coronavirus — or Covid-19 — outbreak could hurt its earnings by as much as 65 cents a share if the cruise operator were forced to suspend all of its operations in Asia through the end of April.

The Miami-based company said it had previously suspended cruise operations from ports in China as a result of the outbreak and added travel restrictions are now “resulting in the cancellation of voyages in other parts of Asia”.

As a result of coronavirus, the company believes the impact on its global bookings and cancelled voyages will have a material impact on its financial results which was not anticipated in the company’s previous 2020 earnings guidance.

Carnival said it is currently unable to determine the full financial impact from the outbreak as the situation is evolving. However, if it were forced to suspend all operations in Asia until the end of April, it could have an impact of between 55 to 65 cents a share on its fiscal 2020 results, which includes guest compensation. The company had previously forecast 2020 adjusted earnings in the range of between $4.30 to $4.60 a share. Despite the warning, Carnival shares were up nearly 3 per cent on Wednesday.

The Westerdam, operated by Carnival’s Holland America Line, is now headed for Cambodia after being denied docking rights by five countries because of fears of coronavirus contagion.

Telecoms congress in Barcelona to debate plans for event this month

Europe’s largest telecoms conference will hold an emergency board meeting on Wednesday to discuss cancelling this year’s event after companies, including Deutsche Telekom, BT, Vodafone and Nokia, have refused to attend over fears about the spread of coronavirus, writes Daniel Thomas in London.

Mobile World Congress is a key event for Barcelona and claims to host more than 1m business meetings during its four-day event at the end of February.

But almost all major telecoms and tech groups have declined to attend, including Facebook, Amazon, Cisco and Intel, as well as European telecoms vendors such as Ericsson. Chinese companies such as Vivo and TCL have also cancelled.

Cancellation would be a major blow for Barcelona, where hotels and restaurants ramp up prices in expectation of a bumper week of high-spending telecom executives. Local media has estimated that it generates €492m for Barcelona, and creates about 14,000 temporary jobs.

Impact on US economy could become clearer ‘relatively soon’

Federal Reserve chairman Jay Powell said data revealing the impact of coronavirus on the US economy will begin to surface soon.

Speaking during a hearing in the Senate, Mr Powell noted that the outbreak’s disruption could be seen in supply chains, US imports including tourism, and financial markets.

“We’ll be looking at all of that, and we do expect to start to pick it up relatively soon,” he told lawmakers.

Coronavirus worries could spark Friday sell-offs

Investors should beware of Friday sell-offs as long as the coronavirus outbreak remains a concern for markets.

Scott Wren, senior global market strategist at Wells Fargo Investment Institute, said investors have been upbeat on global efforts to contain the virus, but US stocks have also ended the last two weeks on a down note. He cautioned that the trend could continue in the near term as traders brace for the possibility of negative developments over the weekend, due in part to skepticism over the Chinese government’s data on coronavirus cases.

“Quite simply, traders want to ‘pack lightly’ for the weekend and go home without large speculative positions that could be negatively affected by coronavirus headlines that come out over the weekend while trading markets are closed,” Mr Wren wrote to clients.

The S&P 500 fell 0.5 per cent last Friday, though it still gained more than 3 per cent on the week. On the prior Friday, the index slipped 1.8 per cent.

With stocks beginning to brush off concerns over the economic impact of coronavirus, Mr Wren cautioned that investors should remember that “risks do exist.”

The ultimate impact of the coronavirus on global growth is uncertain as is the timeframe for when the spread of the virus will peak. The market seems to be pricing in a virus that will be at least somewhat contained in the nearer term. But it is no surprise that the accuracy of Chinese data related to the spread and death toll of the coronavirus has been in question since the outbreak was first reported.

CDC not yet invited to investigate virus outbreak in China

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it has not yet been invited to send its staff to China to aid with an investigation into the coronavirus outbreak and has not been given direct access to raw data on Covid-19.

The health agency said there have been “fewer and fewer” travellers from China and no new cases detected at US airports, according to newswires including Reuters and Bloomberg.

Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said the agency is optimistic that lower case counts suggest the quarantine is working but that it’s “too soon to say that for sure”.

Gilead says it is too early to discuss licensing possible cure for coronavirus

Hannah Kuchler in New York

The US biotech company testing a possible treatment for the novel coronavirus said it is far too early to discuss licensing the drug, after a Chinese drugmaker said it had started mass-producing it.

Gilead Sciences said it was not in talks with BrightGene Bio-Medical technology, a Shanghai-based company that said it had developed the technology to create the active pharmaceutical ingredients of remdesivir.

Shares in BrightGene soared 20 per cent on Wednesday to Rmb 52.12 in Shanghai.

A Gilead spokesperson said it was “premature” to talk about licensing.

“We are aware of BrightGene’s announcement. We remain focused on rapidly determining the potential for remdesivir to treat COVID-19 and doing our part to respond to the coronavirus outbreak,” she said. “We agree that data from the clinical trials with remdesivir will be critical in determining next steps for the drug.”

Researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology said they have applied for Chinese patents for remdesivir, which Gilead initially designed to target Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

Gilead responded by saying it invented remdesivir and has patented it in the US, China, and other parts of the world – including filing extra patent applications specifically against coronaviruses as a category, around the world and in China in 2016.


Mobile World Congress cancelled after companies drop out amid virus fears

Europe’s largest telecoms conference has been forced to cancel this year’s event after companies from Deutsche Telekom and Nokia to Amazon and Vodafone refused to attend over fears of the spread of coronavirus, FT’s Daniel Thomas and Daniel Dombey report.

Mobile World Congress is a key event for Barcelona and claims to host more than 1m business meetings for its 109,000 attendees during the four-day conference at the end of February.

Most of the big telecoms and tech groups had decided not to attend owing to the rapid spread of coronavirus, including Facebook, Amazon, Cisco and Intel, as well as European telecoms vendors such as Ericsson. Many attendees are from Asia, with groups such as Huawei among the largest exhibitors.

The decision followed a board meeting of the GSMA, the industry body that organises the conference, on Wednesday. In a statement, the GSMA said: “The global concern regarding the coronavirus outbreak, travel concern and other circumstances, make it impossible for the GSMA to hold the event.”

It added: “The host city parties respect and understand this decision. The GSMA and the host city partners will continue to be working in unison and supporting each other for MWC Barcelona 2021 and future editions.”


First confirmed case of coronavirus in London

London has seen its first case of coronavirus after a woman, who picked up the virus in China, was diagnosed, FT’s Sarah Neville reports.

Chris Whitty, chief medical officer for England, said: “One further patient in England has tested positive for novel coronavirus, bringing the total number of cases in the UK to nine.” Prof Whitty added: “This virus was passed on in China and the patient has now been transferred to a specialist NHS centre at Guy’s and St Thomas’ in London.”

Michael Head, Senior Research Fellow in Global Health at the University of Southampton, said it was not not surprising that London had seen its first case. He said: “It’s a city of over 10m people with several major international airports.” Both London and the rest of the UK could expect to see more cases, “though hopefully these will continue to be isolated cases and seen in small numbers”.

He noted that of the 1,750 tests carried out so far in the UK, more than 99 per cent had turned out to be negative. Risks to Londoners and other UK residents remained low, Dr Head added.

WHO says China cases steadily declined but ‘outbreak could still go in any direction’

The number of newly confirmed Covid-19 cases in China has steadily declined over the past week, according to the World Health Organization, but it said the data should be interpreted with “extreme caution” as the “outbreak could still go in any direction”.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO, during a press briefing also called on countries to show solidarity after three cruise ships experienced delayed port clearance or were denied entry to ports. He said:

Together with the International Maritime Organization we will issue a communique to all countries to respect the principle of “free pratique” for ships and the principle of proper care for all travelers, in accordance with the International Health Regulations.

Free pratique refers to the license given to a ship to enter port following confirmation from the captain to authorities that the ship is free from contagious disease.

Euro slides to weakest level since May 2017

The euro has dropped as much as 0.4 per cent to $1.0866 today, the currency’s weakest level against the dollar in more than two and a half years.

Strength in the greenback and the market’s concerns over economic fallout from the coronavirus outbreak have contributed to the slide. The euro is down more than 2 per cent in the last month.

“The defining characteristic of the [dollar] in recent weeks has been its role as a safe haven,” Steve Englander, head of global G10 FX research and North America macro strategy at Standard Chartered, said.

Read more about the euro here.

Wall Street closes at record high

US stocks closed at record highs, following their European peers, as investor concerns over the coronavirus receded further amid hopes the rate of infections is slowing.

All three of Wall Street’s main equities gauges closed at record highs on Wednesday. The S&P 500 gained 0.6 per cent, the Nasdaq Composite added 0.7 per cent and the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 0.7 per cent.

In a sign of decreasing global concern, traditional haven assets have struggled. The gold price was down 0.1 per cent at $1,566.45 per troy ounce and the yield on the benchmark US 10-year Treasury rose 4 basis points to 1.6299 per cent as investors moved out of the debt. The yield had touched as low as 1.5 per cent at the end of January at the height of market concerns over the virus.

Brent crude was up 3.7 per cent and back above $56 a barrel.

MGM Resorts pulls 2020 forecast due to coronavirus

MGM Resorts scrapped its financial guidance for 2020 on account of fallout from the coronavirus outbreak.

The US casino operator said it withdrew its forecasts as a result of “increased volatility in our business due to coronavirus as well as the market-wide weakness in Far East baccarat in Las Vegas”.

With casinos in Macau temporarily closed, MGM said it is incurring about $1.5m of operating expenses per day across both of its properties in the city.

MGM also announced today that longtime boss Jim Murren will step down as chairman and chief executive before his contract ends.

Read more on this story here.