World

Coronavirus infections slow in China

By AAP Newswire

The number of new coronavirus cases in mainland China has fallen below 2000 for the first time since January but the virus remains far from contained, as its economic impact spreads, with South Korea announcing an economic emergency.

China's lockdown of cities and tough restrictions on travel and movement have limited the spread of the virus outside the epicentre in Hubei province, but at great cost to the Chinese economy and global business.

Over two dozen trade fairs and industry conferences in China and overseas have been postponed due to travel curbs and concerns about the spread of the virus, potentially disrupting deals worth billions of dollars.

Apple Inc became the latest company to warn of trouble from the epidemic, saying it would not meet its guidance for March-quarter revenue because of slower iPhone production and weaker demand in China.

Hong Kong increased government handouts to businesses and the Hospital Authority by $US3.6 billion to ease the impact on the Chinese-ruled financial centre's battered economy.

As global businesses sought to limit exposure to the virus, health authorities around the world searched for medical weapons.

The president of the EU Chamber of Commerce in China, Joerg Wuttke, said the world's pharmacies may face a shortage of antibiotics and other drugs if the outbreak cannot be resolved soon, and accused Beijing of making supply-chain problems worse.

Chinese media reported on Friday that the capital is requiring a 14-day quarantine for all arrivals, which Wuttke said would make it difficult to fly in technical experts to help if facilities were down.

Japan announced plans to use HIV drugs to combat the virus as the growing number of cases poses an increasing threat to the world's third-largest economy, as well as public health. Japan has the most cases, 520, outside of China.

With Japan's economy contracting, raising the risk of a recession, the spread of the coronavirus has prompted Tokyo to put limits on public crowds while some companies have begun to urge employees to work from home.

The rapidly spreading virus claimed another 98 lives in mainland China as of February 17, bringing the total death toll there to 1868, the National Health Commission said. There were 1886 new confirmed infections for a total of 72,436.

The number of new daily infections in mainland China had not been below 2000 since January 30, while the daily death toll had not come under 100 since February 11.

Outside of China, there are 827 cases in 26 countries and regions and five deaths, according to a Reuters count based on official statements.

Liu Zhiming, the head of a leading hospital in China's central city of Wuhan, the epicentre of a coronavirus outbreak, died of the disease on Tuesday, state television said.

Chinese authorities say the stabilisation in the number of new cases is a sign that measures they have taken to halt the spread of the disease are having an effect.

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Chinese data "appear to show a decline in new cases" but any apparent trend "must be interpreted very cautiously".

With many Chinese factories still closed and others struggling to come back online after extended Chinese New Years holidays, the world's second largest economy is suffering.