Japan, China Close Schools Nationwide As CDC Warns Of Possible “Community Outbreak” In Sonoma County: Live Virus Updates

Summary:

  • WHO says outbreak in Iran likely worse than official numbers suggest; outbreak could go in “any direction”

  • Iran confirms 22 deaths, vice president for women and family affairs infected

  • Lagarde: Not yet time for ECB to intervene to fight economic backlash of outbreak

  • HHS says risk to public remains “low”

  • Starbucks says it has reopened 85% of Chinese restaurants

  • Azar: Sonoma case might be ‘community transmission’

  • Salvini meets with Italian president amid national unity government speculation

  • South Korean new cases surpass China’s new cases as SK confirms 505 new cases

  • China, Japan close school nationwide

  • CDC fears ‘community outbreak’ in Sonoma County after discovering first US case of “unknown origin”

  • Saudi Arabia suspends pilgrimages to Holy Sites

  • Hawaiian Airlines suspends service to South Korea

  • Brazil’s neighbors take steps to keep virus out

* * *

Update (1150ET): A rare glimpse of bullish economic news out of China: Starbucks says it has reopened 85% of its stores in China, its “second home market,” according to a company statement to CNBC.

* * *

Update (1120ET): After cheering reports of German fiscal stimulus yesterday, the ECB’s Christine Lagarde said the outbreak isn’t yet at the stage to justify ECB intervention as investors in the US, and President Trump, look to Powell for a rate cut at the next meeting.

Of course, Lagarde is probably only saying this because she knows there’s nothing she can do to salve the European economy from a ‘supply-side’ shock, which is why she’s picking up where Mario Draghi left off and calling on EU governments to spend more to keep the Continental economy from sliding off a cliff.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports that the CDC is allowing states to “modify” old test kits to use them on any suspected coronavirus patients.

Hopefully, these tests aren’t sacrificing accuracy for availability.

U.S. health officials will let state and local health labs modify a test for the coronavirus that has been plagued by weeks of delays because of inconclusive results, said the head of the trade group for public-health testing labs.

Officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration held a conference call Wednesday in which they gave permission for state and local labs to drop a troublesome step in the tests that stopped them from being used, said Scott Becker, CEO of the Association of Public Health Laboratories. Becker’s group represents state and local testing labs.

The change should speed testing and allow state and local labs to start using hundreds of test kits that were sent out earlier this month, rather than having to wait for an improved, new version of the test to be sent by federal health authorities.

“In the next week we are going to have much more testing,” Becker said in a phone interview. “It is going to increase capacity across the country.”

Source: Bloomberg

Over on Capitol Hill, Nancy Pelosi said she spoke to Trump’s “Coronavirus Czar” Mike Pence about the emergency spending bill.

* * *

Update (1100ET): Azar admits that the case in a Sonoma County hospital might signal the start of “community transmission” as the CDC warned.

  • AZAR: CASE IN CALIF. COULD BE POTENTIAL FIRST COMMUNITY SPREAD

* * *

Update (1030ET): With US stocks deep in the red one again, HHS Secretary Alex Azar said at least 40 public health labs in the US should now be able to test for the coronavirus using “modified existing CDC kits”.

  • IMMEDIATE U.S. CORONAVIRUS RISK REMAINS LOW, AZAR SAYS

  • HHS SECRETARY AZAR SAYS AT LEAST 40 PUBLIC HEALTH LABS IN U.S. SHOULD NOW BE ABLE TO TEST FOR CORONAVIRUS USING MODIFIED EXISTING CDC KITS

in the US, investors are worried about the first case of unknown origin, which the CDC confirmed last night. This comes as critics slam Azar for refusing to guarantee that the coronavirus vaccine would be “affordable to all”.

The IMF said Thursday that it’s likely to downgrade its global growth outlook in the next world economic outlook, which is due in the spring.

Switzerland has become the latest country to cancel games and events over the outbreak, with the Engadin Ski Marathon, said to be the tiny Alpine country’s largest annual sporting event.

Over on Wall Street, US stocks are on track for their worst week since the financial crisis.

Pakistan, meanwhile, has become the latest country to suspend all flights to Iran.

* * *

Update (0920ET): WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Thursday during the organization’s daily press briefing that “we are at a decisive point” in the epidemic, while others warned it could go “in any direction.”

CAP

Iran has confirmed 22 deaths and more than 140 cases, including a vice president who was the third senior official to catch the virus. But many fear the full extent of the outbreak is much broader. During the press conference, another WHO official singled out Iran, claiming the virus had crept into the country “undetected”, before adding that the WHO fears the outbreak inside the country is even worse than the government claims.

“The outbreak can go in any direction based on how we handle it,” Dr. Tedros said during the group’s daily briefing in Geneva.

Iran “has a very high clinical capacity”, said Dr. Mike Ryan, the executive director of the WHO’s health emergency program. The 10% death rate probably has more to do with the fact that many cases have gone undiagnosed, he said. The country has gone so far as to cancel Friday prayers in Tehran, after the Saudis told pilgrims they wouldn’t be allowed in to the Muslim Holy Sites.

Following European stocks dive into correction territory, in the US, the Dow is on the cusp of falling into correction territory intraday for the first time since December 2018 (remember when?).

As traders digest the implications of the new case in Sonoma County that could be evidence of the first case of “community transmission” in the country, as well as President Trump’s rambling press conference on Wednesday, the focus has shifted back to Europe, where in Italy, cases climbed above 500.

According to the FT, Matteo Salvini, the leader of the League, the head of the parliamentary opposition, has met with President Sergio Mattarella as speculation mounts about the prospects for a national unity government to deal with the crisis, following several political missteps by PM Conte.

* * *

Update (0735ET): After yesterday’s rally fizzled, Germany is giving the ‘fiscal stimulus’ tape bomb one more go.

  • GERMAN GOVERNMENT CONSIDERING POSSIBLE STIMULUS PROGRAMME IN CASE CORONAVIRUS EPIDEMIC HITS GERMAN ECONOMY HARD – HANDELSBLATT

Yesterday, a German lawmaker poured cold water on reports that Germany might ditch its constitutional ‘debt break’ to boost spending in response to the economy-killing outbreak.

* * *

Update (0715ET): with the country’s third election in a year just days away, Israel is taking serious pains to avoid acknowledging the coronavirus cases that have been confirmed in the country by blaming them on Italy and South Korea (each case involved a traveler who had recently returned from one of those two countries).

The country said Thursday it would bar non-Israelis who had recently visited Italy after confirming that a man who had recently visited the country had tested positive for the virus, according to Reuters.

* * *

US equity futures are pointing to yet another lower open on Thursday morning after WaPo interrupted President Trump’s press conference last night to reports the first COVID-19 case “of unknown origin,” which the CDC later confirmed was in Sonoma County, and could be the epicenter of America’s first “community outbreak.” Shortly after, South Korea reported its largest number of new coronavirus cases in a single day, as the number of new cases reported outside China once again surpassed the number inside China. Brazil confirmed the first case in South America yesterday, bringing the virus to every continent except Antarctica.

A few hours later, and South Korea has reported another 171 cases, bringing the total cases confirmed on Thursday to 505 – surpassing China’s daily total (433) for the first time, as Bloomberg pointed out. So far, South Korea has confirmed 1,766 cases, along with 13 deaths, in the 38 days since the first case was reported on Jan. 20. The US and South Korea have cancelled planned military exercises after a US soldier caught the virus in Korea.

CAP

Over in Hawaii, Hawaiian Air has suspended service to South Korea starting March 2 through April 30, while Delta reduces flights as the outbreak in South Korea intensifies (Hawaii has already had one COVID-19 scare involving a Japanese tourist; we suspect the state wants to avoid a similar episode involving South Korea). Congresswoman and presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard requesting a suspension of flights from South Korea and Japan as the outbreak in the US worsens.

Fearing the sudden breakout in the Middle East might spread inside its borders, Saudi Arabia has halted pilgrimages to Islam’s holy sites – known as the Hajj – that are a mandatory practice for Muslims, an unprecedented decision that is likely to spark controversy across the Muslim world. Across the Persian Gulf, Iran has now confirmed 26 deaths 245 cases. But given the virus’s rapid spread throughout the Islamic Republic, many suspect that the real number of cases is far higher (earlier in the week, a local lawmaker said 50 people had died in the city of Qom alone).

Iran Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said the large number of new cases is due to more labs handling virus tests. He warned that the public should expect more cases in the future.

Yesterday, Greece was one of eight countries – Brazil, Pakistan, North Macedonia, of course Greece, Georgia, Algeria, Norway and Romania – to confirm their first cases. On Thursday, Greece confirmed two more cases, one of them in its capital city of Athens. The initial case was found in Thessaloniki, Greece’s second city.

At last count, coronavirus has infected more than 80,000 people around the world and caused more than 2,700 deaths since the outbreak began in Wuhan back in December.

Following Brazil’s confirmation overnight, its Latin American neighbors are taking steps to stop the virus from spreading across their borders. According to the AP, Peru is keeping a team of specialists working 24/7 at Jorge Chávez International Airport. Argentina has asked citizens to report any flu-like symptom. Puerto Rico has established a task force to prepare for an outbreak in Puerto Rico. And Chile has announced a health emergency and purchased millions of masks and protective outfits for health workers.

But perhaps the biggest story overnight came out of Japan, where the government swore yesterday that the Tokyo Games would take place as scheduled this summer, after an IOC member speculated that if the virus wasn’t cleared up by late May, Japan might be forced to cancel the Olympics.

PM Shinzo Abe asked all schools in Japan to remain closed until the spring holidays begin late next month to try and contain the virus. Abe’s decision follows a rash of new cases reported in the north of Japan, including the first cases in Hokkaido, with no discernible path of origin, Nikkei reports.

As of Thursday, 175 cases have been confirmed across 19 of Japan’s prefectures, including Hokkaido, Tokyo, Aichi, and Chiba. Earlier on Thursday, Hokkaido instituted a weeklong closure of all 1,600 public elementary and junior high schools. Abe made the announcement during a meeting of the government’s headquarters.

Schools must now decide whether to abide by the PM’s non-binding ask, though it’s expected that nearly all schools will comply.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, President Xi’s ‘point-man’ in charge of the coronavirus response, said that China will extend its school closures for another month because of the virus, according to CCTV.

Earlier this week, we noted that WHO’s team of researchers claimed they found no evidence that the virus had ‘mutated’ during their study of 100+ strains isolated from patients. Well, another group of scientists have done some research that appears to conflict with this.

In Australia, which confirmed a handful of cases during the early days of the outbreak, but has since gone quiet, PM Scott Morrison said Thursday in what some might describe as a ‘fearmongering’ speech that “there is every indication that the world will soon enter a pandemic phase of the coronavirus.”

“As a result, we have initiated the implementation of the coronavirus emergency response plan. While the WHO is yet to declare the nature of the coronavirus and its move toward a pandemic phase, we believe that the risk of a global pandemic is very much upon us and as a result, as a government, we need to take steps to prepare.”

WHO’s Dr. Tedros, who yesterday asked officials not to use the word ‘pandemic’, must have been thrilled to hear Morrison’s screed.

Morrison said Australians can still go “to the football match, or the concert” because Australia has “stayed ahead” of the virus. But now it’s time to move onto the next phase, which includes “preparation for the possibility of a much more significant event.”

Over in France, French President Emmanuel Macron said “we have a crisis before us. An epidemic is on its way” during a visit to a Paris hospital where coronavirus patients are being treated. His statement followed reports that 2 have died in France, an elderly Christian tourist and a 60-year-old French national. The Frenchman died earlier this week in Paris at the hospital Macron visited Thursday. The total number of cases in France reached 18 on Wednesday, roughly the same number as neighboring Germany.

Spain detected two more cases on Thursday, bringing the total this week to 14. Neither was connected to Italy, health authorities said. Switzerland confirmed 3 more cases, bringing its total to 4, though Swiss authorities said they’re testing 66 others. In Italy, the number of confirmed cases climbed to 528. Of those, 278 are self-isolating at home, 159 recovered with symptoms in hospital and 37 are in intensive care.

As the AP reminds us, Germany’s health minister said Wednesday that the country was “at the beginning of an epidemic” as authorities in the west tested dozens of people. New cases on Thursday brought Germany’s total to 21.

Two new cases confirmed in the UK on Thursday raised the total to 15. A primary school in Buxton was forced to close for “a deep clean” after a parent of one of the students tested positive for the virus.

The EU Commission doubled-down on its anti-border-closure position, saying no EU country wants to close internal borders. Meanwhile, the FT reports that EU officials are weighing the risks of clusters of Italian-style outbreaks surface across the continent.

What will it take for the EU to acknowledge that border closures might be necessary?

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