HONG KONG/BEIJING (Reuters) – Hong Kong reported its first coronavirus death on Tuesday, the second outside mainland China, but markets enjoyed some respite from recent sharp sell-offs prompted by the fast-spreading outbreak that has killed 427 people.
After Shanghai’s main market lost nearly $400 billion the previous day, global and Chinese markets bounced, with both Europe and metals enjoying their best session of the year, though sentiment stayed fragile and oil fell again.
But on the ground, bad news was relentless.
Chinese-ruled Macau, the world’s biggest gambling hub, asked casino operators to close for two weeks to help curb the virus.
And in the latest major corporate hit, Hyundai Motor (005380.KS) said it would gradually suspend production at South Korean factories because of supply chain disruptions.
Hong Kong’s first fatality was a 39-year-old man with an underlying illness who had visited China’s Wuhan city, the virtually quarantined epicenter of the outbreak.
China, meanwhile, reported a record daily jump in deaths of 64 to 425. The only other death outside mainland China was a man who died in the Philippines last week after visiting Wuhan.
Total infections in mainland China rose to 20,438, and there have been nearly 200 cases elsewhere across 24 countries and China’s special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macau.
Thailand’s tally of infections jumped to 25, the highest outside China, while Singapore’s rose to 24, four of those from local contagion as opposed to visitors from China.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the flu-like virus a global emergency and experts say much is still unknown, including its mortality rate and transmission routes.
Such uncertainties have spurred strong measures by some countries – offending Beijing’s communist government which has called for calm, fact-based responses instead of scaremongering.
The deluge of misinformation on social media – from a recommendation to eat more onions to a warning of spread via a video game – has led Asian governments to hit back with 16 arrests, fines and fake news laws, alarming free speech advocates.
Australia sent hundreds of evacuees from Wuhan to an island in the Indian Ocean, while Japan began screening 3,700 passengers and crew aboard a cruise liner held in quarantine.
Thousands of medical workers in Hong Kong, which had seen months of anti-China political protests, held a second day of strikes to press for complete closure of borders with the mainland after three checkpoints were left open.
“We’re not threatening the government, we just want to prevent the outbreak,” said Cheng, 26, a nurse on strike.
The Asian financial center has confirmed 17 cases.
Hong Kong was badly hit by Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), another coronavirus that emerged from China in 2002 to kill almost 800 people worldwide and cost the global economy an estimated $33 billion.
Chinese data suggests the new virus, while much more contagious, is significantly less lethal, although such numbers can evolve rapidly.
WHO director of global hazard preparedness Sylvie Briand said most who had died or suffered severe infections were people with underlying conditions such as cancer, diabetes or suppressed immune systems, or the elderly.
“NOT A CATASTROPHE”
Raising the prospect of another major spat – just as trade frictions were easing – Beijing on Monday accused the United States of spreading panic after it announced plans to block nearly all recent foreign visitors to China.
A handful of other nations have done the same.
Britain updated its travel advice on Tuesday, telling citizens to leave China if they could, and Russia set up a quarantine center in remote Siberia, where there have been two cases, for Russians evacuated from China.
With the world’s second biggest economy facing increasing isolation and disruption, some economists predict world output will shrink by 0.2 to 0.3 percentage points.
But White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow played down the potential impact on the United States, saying the outbreak could actually spur investment and production, despite a risk of component shortages.
“It’s not a catastrophe … I just think the impact is minimal,” he told Fox Business Network. “Chipmakers are not going to be affected that much. Pharmaceuticals probably will be affected much more. Some things are kind of in the middle, when you get to automobiles and auto parts.”
MSCI’s main world index .MIWD00000PUS rose 0.5%, led by the biggest leap in commodity-focused stocks in more than three months. “Investors are tentatively going back into risk,” said MUFG strategist Lee Hardman.
Many airlines have stopped flights to parts of China.
And a flight from Toronto to Jamaica was forced back when a Canadian man falsely announced to passengers that he had the coronavirus – and took a selfie. He was arrested.
For a graphic comparing coronavirus outbreaks, see tmsnrt.rs/2GK6YVK.
Reporting by Lusha Zhang and Ryan Woo in Beijing, Farah Master in Hong Kong, Cheng Leng and Winni Zhou in Shanghai, Roxanne Liu, Muyu Xu and Se Young Lee in Beijing, Brenda Goh and Zoey Zhang in Shanghai, Tom Westbrook in Singapore, Byron Kaye in Sydney, Matthew Tostevin in Bangkok, Linda Sieg, Sakura Murakami and Ami Miyazaki in Tokyo, John Geddie in Singapore, Kate Kelland in London, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Ben Blanchard in Taipei, Susan Heavey and Makini Brice in Washington, David Ljunggren in; Ottawa; Writing by Robert Birsel and Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Alex Richardson