New Hubei Cases Drop; South Korea Infections Surge: Virus Update

Hubei province at the center of the coronavirus outbreak reported a sharp decline in new cases as China again changed its method for counting infections.

The province added only 349 new cases, compared with almost 1,700 a day earlier, after eliminating the category for clinically diagnosed cases by CT scans. The global death toll topped 2,100 as Hubei added 108 fatalities.

China has faced questions about the transparency of its data as it repeatedly adjusts how it reports coronavirus cases. Last week, a shift in methods resulted in a surge of almost 15,000 new Hubei cases.

South Korea’s cases nearly doubled in a day, with a surge tied to a cult. China isplanning to take over HNA Group Co. and sell off its airline assets after the coronavirus outbreak hit the debt-laden conglomerate’s ability to meet financial obligations, according to people familiar with the plans.

Key Developments

  • China death toll rises to at least 2,112
  • Hubei adds 108 deaths, new cases increase by 349
  • Iran reportsfirst deaths from coronavirus
  • Macau casinos open after two-week shutdown

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South Korea Sees Spike in Cases Tied to Cult (8:19 a.m. HK)

Confirmed coronavirus cases in South Korea have nearly doubled in a day, with asurge tied to a cult whose members may have contracted the virus from a single patient.

Korea’s Centers for Disease Control & Prevention said Wednesday that of the 20 new confirmed cases, 14 attended the “same Korean cult,” with at least five of them having an “epidemiological link“ to a patient confirmed with the coronavirus earlier this week.

Another seven more cases have been confirmed Thursday, according to Yonhap news agency, which would bring the total to 58 in the country, up from 31 on Wednesday.

Hubei Adds Fewer New Cases as It Adjusts Count (7:50 a.m. HK)

China’s Hubei province reported 349 additional confirmed cases for Feb. 19, taking the total case count in the province to 62,031.

The new cases were a steep drop from almost 1,700 the previous day, following an adjustment in how infections are counted. China’s National Health Commission said Wednesday it would now only classify patients as suspected cases and confirmed cases, eliminating the category for clinically diagnosed cases by CT scans.

The number of discharged patients in Hubei rose by 1,209 for Feb. 19, topping the number of new infections for the first time. Hubei’s numbers for additional cases have been falling for the past week, while those for discharged patients have been rising.

Qantas Slashes Capacity, Freezes Hiring (7:15 a.m. HK)

Qantas Airways Ltd. is slashing capacity on international flights in Asia by 15% and freezing recruitment as the coronavirus drives down travel demand. The reductions apply to flights to mainland China, Hong Kong and Singapore and will be in place until at least the end of May, the Australian airlinesaid.

The cuts are the equivalent of grounding 18 planes across Qantas and its low-cost division Jetstar, the company said. Qantas forecast the coronavirus will reduce profit by as much as A$150 million ($100 million) in the year ending June.

CDC Warns Travelers to Hong Kong (4:20 p.m. NY)

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned travelers to Hong Kong to be prepared for the novel coronavirus after a second person there died from the infection.

The agency put in place a level 1 travel notice for Hong Kong that advises visitors to avoid contact with sick people and to wash their hands often to avoid contracting the virus, which is spreading there from person-to-person.

The CDC has level 4 advisory for China’s Hubei province, the center of the outbreak, which means no one should travel there. The rest of mainland China is level 3, meaning people should avoid non-essential travel.

Two Iran Patients Die: Report (11:37 a.m. NY)

Two Iranian citizens who tested positive for the coronavirus have died, a Health Ministry official told the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency, the country’s first fatalities from the outbreak.

The patients were elderly residents of the the city of Qom,said the news agency, about 100 miles (150 kilometers) south of Tehran.

China Said to Near Takeover of HNA Group (9:45 a.m. NY)

China is planning to take over HNA Group Co. and sell off its airline assets after the coronavirus outbreak hit the indebted conglomerate’s ability to meet financial obligations, according to people familiar with the plans.

The government of Hainan, the southern island province where HNA is based, is in talks to take control of the conglomerate, which has been shedding assets after a global buying spree left it with one of the highest levels of corporate debt in China, the people said. The airline assets could be taken over later by other local companies, they said.

China’s Central Bank Expects ‘Limited’ Virus Impact (8:41 a.m. NY)

The People’s Bank of China acknowledged the downward pressure facing the economy and said the impact of the outbreak would be “short-lived” and “limited in terms of time and scope.”

It called for a “rational view” on the economic impact of the virus and said it’ll work to promote consumption and investment to boost domestic demand, according to a quarterly monetary policy report.

IMF Sees Global Economic Rebound Despite Virus Threat (8:30 a.m. NY)

Worldwide economic growth is expected to “moderately strengthen” this year, according to the IMF, despite the Washington-based lenderwarning that the coronavirus is one of the main risks that could derail that outlook.

Russia Exports to China Slump, Indonesia Spending Hit (6:24 a.m. NY)

Russia’s exports to Chinadropped by almost a third in the first six weeks of the year as the spread of coronavirus sapped demand in the world’s second-biggest economy. Separately, Indonesia’s revenue and spending fell in the first month of the year and the country’s finance minister warned of more risks to economic growth.

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