Oil Prices Tumble As Coronavirus Spreads

Oil prices fell sharply on Friday amid increasing evidence that the virus has spread beyond China’s borders. The new cases are mushrooming beyond China, most notably in Japan and South Korea.

Benchmark Brent crude tumbled 1.85 percent to $58.22 a barrel, while U.S. crude futures were down 1.6 percent at $53.02 a barrel.

China reported an uptick in new coronavirus cases, raising concerns of lower fuel demand.

The National Health Commission reported a total of 75,465 confirmed cases and 2,236 deaths on the mainland by the end of Thursday.

The government reported 1,109 new confirmed cases of the disease during the same period, sharply up from 349 cases the previous day, reversing three days of decline.

While the number of deaths is higher than the previous day, the rate of new infections has declined, raising hopes that Beijing’s epidemic control efforts were working.

China’s commerce ministry said January and February exports and imports will be hit by the epidemic that has severely disrupted the world’s second-largest economy.

Elsewhere, South Korea declared a “special management zone” around a southeastern city as health authorities reported 52 new cases of the illness, raising the tally in the country to 156.

The mayor of the southeastern city of Daegu urged the city’s 2.5 million people to stay home and wear masks even indoors if possible.

23 people were confirmed to be infected with the new coronavirus in Japan on Thursday, bringing the total number of reported infections to 728.

Meanwhile, despite the uncertainty on the oil market amid the coronavirus outbreak, it would no longer make sense for the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and its allies to move forward their meeting planned for the first week of March, Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said.

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