By David Stanway
SHANGHAI (Reuters) – The number of reported new cases of coronavirus in China’s Hubei province rose on Monday after two days of falls, as authorities imposed tough new restrictions on movement to prevent the spread of the disease which has now killed more than 1,700 people.
With no end in sight for the outbreak, Japan and Singapore appeared to be on the brink of recession with data on Monday pointing to possible contractions in the current quarter.
In Cambodia, hundreds of people who had disembarked from a cruise ship that docked there last week were anxiously awaiting information on when they could return home, after a former passenger tested positive for the virus in Malaysia.
In Hubei, the epicenter of the outbreak, health officials reported 1,933 new cases and 100 new deaths on Feb. 16, the lowest daily death count since Feb. 11. The number of new cases rose nearly 5% from the previous day, but the number of deaths fell from 139.
Nearly 90% of the new cases were in the provincial capital of Wuhan, a city of 11 million people where the virus is believed to have originated at a market illegally trading wildlife late last year.
Across mainland China, officials said the total number of cases rose by 2,048 to 70,548, with 1,770 deaths.
Chinese health officials on Sunday said two days of falls in the number of new confirmed cases showed their efforts to halt the spread of the virus were bearing fruit, although international experts say it is too early to tell whether the epidemic has peaked. Of the 70,000-plus cases in mainland China, 10,844 people have been treated and released from hospital.
Outside China, more than 500 cases have been confirmed, mostly of people who traveled from Chinese cities, with five deaths.
Restrictions were tightened further in Hubei on Sunday with vehicles, apart from essential services, banned from the roads and companies told to stay shut until further notice.
Across China many factories remain closed following the extended Lunar New Year holiday, disrupting supply chains around the world.
China’s central bank cut the interest rate on its medium-term lending on Monday, a move expected to pave the way for a reduction in the benchmark loan prime rate on Thursday, to lower borrowing costs for companies hit by the virus.
Beijing also announced plans on Sunday to roll out targeted and phased tax and fee cuts to help relieve difficulties for businesses.
Even so, many economists expect China’s economic growth to slow and ratings agency Moody’s on Monday revised downward its 2020 GDP growth forecasts for China to 5.2%. That compares with the 5.7% growth China would need this year to meet its long-term goal of doubling GDP over the decade to 2020, according to a government economist.
In Japan, the Nikkei stumbled 0.7% after official data showed the economy shrank in October-December at the fastest pace since the second quarter of 2014.
Virus-related damage to Japan’s economy is expected to show up in the current quarter, stoking fears of recession in the world’s third-largest economy.
Japan evacuated more nationals from the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak on Monday, while concerns about the spreading disease raised the possibility that organizers may cut the number of participants at next month’s Tokyo Marathon.
With more than 400 people infected, the majority passengers on a cruise ship docked off the country, Japan is the country most affected by the epidemic after China, where the outbreak was first detected in December.
Trade-dependent Singapore downgraded its 2020 economic growth forecast and is set to unveil measures to cushion the blow from the epidemic on Tuesday. Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Friday that a recession was a possibility.
Asia’s woes have yet to spread elsewhere, with Wall Street indexes scaling record highs.
SEARCH FOR CRUISE SHIP PASSENGERS
Cruise ship firm Holland America Line said it was working with governments and health experts to track passengers who disembarked from its Westerdam ship docked in Cambodia after an American woman tested positive for coronavirus in Malaysia.
More than 100 have already left the country, while some 300 are reportedly still in Cambodia.
American passengers were taken off another cruise liner on Sunday to fly home after being quarantined for two weeks off Japan.
Seventy new coronavirus cases were confirmed on board the Diamond Princess where 3,700 passengers and crew have been held since Feb. 3. Some 355 people on board have tested positive for the disease, by far the largest cluster of cases outside China.
Canadian, Italian, South Korean and Hong Kong passengers were expected to follow soon, after their governments also announced plans to repatriate passengers.
“Leaving in a few hours. No details. Might be going to Texas or Nebraska,” Gay Courter, one of the American passengers on board, told Reuters. She said she expected to spend another two weeks in quarantine on U.S. soil.
The ship, owned by Carnival (NYSE:CCL) Corp., has been held in the Japanese port of Yokohama with 3,700 passengers and crew on board. Those with the disease have been taken to hospital in Japan and no one from the ship has died. Around half of the guests onboard are from Japan.
Countries that have announced plans to fly their citizens home from the ship say they will take them only if they are symptom-free, and quarantine them on arrival.
Taiwan reported its first fatality on Sunday. The first fatality in Europe was reported on Saturday, an 80-year-old Chinese man who died at a Paris hospital.
(This story has been refiled to fix typo in second paragraph)