SHANGHAI (Reuters) – A new strain of virus spreading across China has claimed its first victim in Beijing, officials said on Tuesday, as the death toll climbed to 106, the United States warned citizens against trips to the country and financial markets again recoiled.
As concern mounted about the impact of the coronavirus on the world’s second-biggest economy, health authorities reported a new surge in cases, while adding that all but six of the dead were from the central city of Wuhan.
Although cases of the flu-like virus have appeared in more countries, with Sri Lanka and Cambodia the latest on the list, no fatalities have been reported outside China.
Wuhan, a city of 11 million in Hubei province, where the virus emerged late last year, apparently in a market illegally selling wildlife, has been all but put under quarantine, with a lockdown on almost all transport and public gatherings.
Tens of millions of others in Hubei live under some form of travel curbs, in a bid to stifle the virus before it can radiate out across China and beyond.
Social media images showed residents of city apartment blocks plaintively chanting, “Wuhan, you can do it!” and singing the national anthem out of their windows.
Tuesday’s toll of 106 was up from 81 the day before. The number of total confirmed cases in China surged to 4,515 as of Monday, from 2,835 the previous day, the National Health Commission said.
Global stocks fell again as oil prices hit three-month lows, and China’s yuan currency dipped to its weakest level in 2020 as investors worried about damage to the economy from travel bans over the Lunar New Year holiday period, which China extended in a bid to keep people isolated at home.
Analysts said China’s travel and tourism would be the hardest-hit sectors, together with retail and liquor sales, though healthcare and online shopping were seen as likely outperformers.
Officially known as “2019-nCoV”, the newly identified coronavirus can cause pneumonia, but it is too early to know just how dangerous it is and how easily it spreads.
Some health experts question whether China can contain it.
Chinese health officials say the incubation period could range from one to 14 days, and the virus is infectious during that time. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimated an incubation period of two to 10 days.
U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday offered China whatever help it needed, while the State Department said Americans should reconsider visiting all of China due to the virus.
Canada, which has two confirmed cases of the virus and is investigating 19 potential cases, warned its citizens to avoid travel to Hubei.
Authorities in Hubei, home to nearly 60 million people, are coming under increasing criticism over what many see as a bungled initial response to the virus. GRAPHIC: Number of confirmed cases rockets – here
In rare public self-criticism, Wuhan Mayor Zhou Xianwang said on Monday the city’s management of the crisis was “not good enough” and indicated he was willing to resign.
Premier Li Keqiang visited Wuhan on Monday to spur medical workers to step up the fight and to promise reinforcements.
China’s ambassador to the United Nations, following a meeting with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, said his government put “paramount importance” on the prevention and control of the epidemic and was working with the international community in a spirit of “openness, transparency and scientific coordination”.
Guterres said the United Nations had full confidence in China’s ability to control the outbreak and stood ready to provide any support.
Communist Party-ruled China has been eager to seem open and transparent in its handling of the epidemic, after it was heavily criticized for efforts to cover up an epidemic of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) that killed about 800 people globally in 2002-2003.
SARS, which was also believed to have originated in a wildlife market, led to a 45% plunge in air passenger demand in Asia. The travel industry is more reliant on Chinese travelers now, and China’s share of the global economy has quadrupled.
With Chinese markets shut for the holiday, investors were selling the offshore yuan and the Australian dollar as a proxy for risk. Oil was also under pressure as fears about the wider fallout grew.
The U.S. S&P 500 closed down nearly 1.6%.
Echoing concern from South Korea on economic consequences, Japanese Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura warned that corporate profits and factory production might take a hit.
China is Japan’s second-largest export destination and a huge market for its retailers, while Chinese make up 30% of all tourists visiting Japan.
Some European tour operators canceled trips to China, while governments around the world worked to repatriate nationals.
Reporting by Winni Zhou, Sun Yilei, Cheng Leng, David Stanway and Josh Horwitz in Shanghai; Cate Cadell, Gabriel Crossley and Yawen Chen in Beijing; Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols at the United Nations, Hideyuki Sano in Tokyo, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Kate Kelland in London, Ben Blanchard in Taipei, Waruna Karunatilake in Colombo, Matthias Blamont in Paris; Writing by Stephen Coates and Robert Birsel; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell and Clarence Fernandez
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