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China sees decline in virus deaths, but WHO urges caution

BEIJING: China reported recently its fewest new coronavirus infections since the start of this year and its lowest daily death toll for a week, but the World Health Organisation-WHO said data suggesting the epidemic had slowed should still be viewed with caution.

Apple Incorporation warned that its sales would suffer as the epidemic hurt both its supply in China and its demand, an announcement that knocked the wind out of global stock markets.

The head of a leading hospital in China’s central city of Wuhan, epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak, died of the disease earlier, becoming one of the most prominent victims since the disease first appeared at the end of last year.

Chinese officials reported 1,886 new cases, the first time the daily figure has fallen below 2,000 since Jan 30, bringing the mainland China total to 72,436. A figure of 98 new deaths marked the first time the daily toll in China had fallen below 100 since Feb 11, bringing the total to 1,868.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Chinese data “appears to show a decline in new cases” but any apparent trend “must be interpreted very cautiously.”

Outside China, there have been 827 cases of the disease, known as COVID19, and five deaths, according to sources. More than half of those cases have been on a cruise ship quarantined off Japan.

Chinese state television said Liu Zhiming, the director of Wuhan Wuchang Hospital, died on Tuesday, the seventh health worker to fall victim. The hospital was designated solely for treating virus-infected patients.

While China says its lockdown of cities and tough curbs on travel and movement have limited the spread of the virus, this has come at a great cost to its economy, with repercussions for global businesses.

Stock markets had nonetheless roared ahead, boasted by expectations of stimulus measures to keep China’s economy humming. But Apple’s warning it would fall short of guidance for quarterly revenue because of slower iPhone production and weak Chinese demand sent markets lower.

“We have been pointing out that the market reaction in past weeks was excessively constructive and this could be a wake-up call to all investors that ignored so far potential negative impact,” analysts at UniCredit said.

Chinese state television quoted President Xi Jinping as saying China could still meet its economic growth target for 2020 despite the epidemic.

Economists are warning of potential mass layoffs in China later this year if the virus is not contained soon.

-Courtesy by Reuters

February 19, 2020

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