Travellers with face masks and shields are seen at the Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station on the last day of the Spring Festival travel rush, as the country is hit by an outbreak of the novel coronavirus, in Shanghai, China February 18, 2020. REUTERS/Aly S
BEIJING/SHANGHAI (Reuters) - The head of a leading hospital in China’s central city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, died of the disease on Tuesday as Apple Inc warned its sales would suffer because of the epidemic, casting a chill on global stock markets.
Chinese state television said Liu Zhiming, the director of Wuhan Wuchang Hospital, died at 10:30 a.m, the seventh health worker to fall victim. The hospital was designated to solely treat virus-infected patients.
The number of new coronavirus cases in mainland China fell below 2,000 for the first time since January but the virus remains far from contained.
The total death toll in China has climbed to 1,868, the National Health Commission said. There were 1,886 new confirmed infections, for a total of 72,436.
China’s lockdown of cities and tough curbs on travel and movement have limited the spread of the virus outside the epicenter, but at great cost to the economy and global business.
More than two dozen trade fairs and industry conferences have been postponed because of travel curbs and concerns about the spread of the virus, potentially disrupting deals worth billions of dollars.
Apple became the latest company to warn of trouble, saying it would not meet its guidance for March-quarter revenue because of slower iPhone production and weaker demand in China.
Asian shares fell and Wall Street was poised to retreat from record highs on Tuesday after the news.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in said the economy was in an emergency situation and required stimulus as the epidemic had disrupted demand for South Korean goods.
Singapore announced a $4.5-billion financial package to help contain the outbreak in the city-state and weather its economic impact.
In Hong Kong, leader Carrie Lam said the government would increase handouts to tackle the outbreak to HK$28 billion ($3.60 billion) from HK$25 billion, as it strives to ease the impact on the Chinese-ruled city’s protest-battered economy.
Singapore Airlines Ltd said it would temporarily cut flights in the three months to May, as the epidemic hits demand for services touching and transiting the key travel hub.
As global businesses sought to limit exposure to the virus, health authorities around the world searched for medical weapons.
The president of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China, Joerg Wuttke, said the world’s pharmacies may face a shortage of antibiotics and other drugs if the outbreak cannot be resolved soon, and accused Beijing of making supply-chain problems worse.
Japan announced plans to use HIV drugs to combat the virus as a growing number of cases posed an increasing threat to the world’s third-largest economy, as well as public health. With 520, Japan has the most cases outside China.
With Japan’s economy contracting, raising the risk of a recession, the spread of the virus has prompted Tokyo to put limits on public crowds while some companies are telling employees to work from home.
The number of new daily infections in mainland China had not been below 2,000 since Jan. 30, while the daily death toll had not fallen below 100 since Feb. 11.
Outside China, there are 827 cases in 26 countries and regions and five deaths, according to a Reuters count based on official statements.
Chinese authorities say the stabilization in the number of new cases is a sign that measures they have taken to halt the spread of the disease are having an effect.
Global health authorities had to keep on guard against a wider outbreak, said Jimmy Whitworth, a professor of international public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
“We can hope that the reports of falling numbers of new cases in China do show that the epidemic has peaked in Hubei province, but it is still too early to be sure,” he said, referring to the central province where the outbreak began.
World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Chinese data “appear to show a decline in new cases” but any apparent trend “must be interpreted very cautiously”.