A total of 1,523 deaths and 66,492 cases have been recorded ever since the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) broke out in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December, the country’s health commission reported on Saturday.
Europe also witnessed its first fatality as an elderly Chinese tourist hospitalised in France succumbed to the epidemic, French Health Minister Agnes Buzyn informed news agency Reuters. Outside mainland China, there have been at least 500 cases in at least 24 countries, with four deaths in Japan, Hong Kong, the Philippines, and the latest one in France.
Egypt, too, has confirmed its first coronavirus case – also the first such case in Africa – and stated that the affected person was a foreign national who had been quarantined in a hospital.
Chinese President Xi Jinping urged the authorities to maintain economic and social control as the Asian giant battles the deadly outbreak.
India’s involvement in the crisis
The Indian Embassy in Japan on Saturday said it is making efforts to disembark all the Indians on board the cruise ship off the Japanese coast after the quarantine period ends as authorities confirmed that 285 people on the ship, including three Indians, have contracted the disease, PTI reported. A total of 138 Indians, including 132 crew and 6 passengers, were among the 3,711 people on board the quarantined ship that arrived at the Japanese coast earlier this month.
— India in Japanインド大使館 (@IndianEmbTokyo) February 15, 2020
Quarantined cruise ship in Japan
In a fresh development Saturday, the United States is about to send an aircraft to Japan to fetch American citizens on the quarantined cruise ship Diamond Princess, where the most infections outside Chinese territory have been reported.
The Associated Press reported that an estimated 380 Americans are on board the cruise ship, which has been docked at Yokohama, a port city southwest of Tokyo. The chartered aircraft will arrive in Japan on Sunday and the passengers will be taken to Travis Air Force Base in California, with some continuing to Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, the US Embassy in Tokyo was quoted as saying in a letter to passengers and crew that was posted online Saturday.
The passengers have been kept on the ship since February 5 and the 14-day quarantine period is slated to end on Wednesday.
Protests in Hong Kong against potential quarantine clinics
Reuters reported that hundreds of anti-government protesters marched in Hong Kong Saturday against the probable government plans to turn some buildings into ‘coronavirus quarantine centres’. The protesters also demanded full sealing of the Hong Kong-China border.
But the protests have been weakening as panic over the virus has kept most people indoors.
Three weeks ago, it was reported that a group of protesters had set alight the lobby of a newly constructed residential building in Hong Kong that authorities had allegedly planned to use as a quarantine facility. Hong Kong has shut most border points with China and has declared compulsory isolation for people coming over if they had been in mainland China in the last 14 days.
Economic implications of the outbreak
Stocks in the Asian markets have been on the higher side of the gains, aided by the hope that governments will surely come up with provisions to mitigate the impact on their economies from the coronavirus outbreak.
But, a Reuters poll observed that China’s economy is expected to grow at its slowest rate in the current quarter since the financial crisis. The news agency also stated that the coronavirus outbreak could reduce Japan’s economic growth by 0.2 percentage points.
Also, Pangang, one of China’s top titanium producers, suspended production at its unit in Chongqing after some members of its staff were diagnosed to be infected with the deadly infection.
The multinational energy giant Shell stated Friday that it had sent some staff home from its main Singapore office after it identified an employee who had been in contact with a coronavirus patient.
KLM, the Dutch arm of Air France KLM, issued a public apology Friday after a crew member set off a social media outrage by posting a sign in Korean saying passengers on a recent flight were not allowed to use a toilet because of the coronavirus.
China’s foreign minister has expressed confidence that the end of the outbreak is in sight, and that the impact will be only temporary on its economy, which will resurface ‘strongly’.
(With inputs from Press Trust of India, Reuters, Associated Press)
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