South Korea vows “strong and swift” measures as coronavirus spreads

Song Jung-a reports from Seoul

South Korea’s prime minister, Chung Sye-kyun, has vowed to take “strong and swift” measures to prevent further spread of the coronavirus amid growing concerns that the outbreak is spiralling out of control.

The country on Friday reported 52 new cases of the Covid-19 virus, including 33 cases traced to the Shincheonji Church of Jesus in Daegu, about 235km south-east of Seoul. The spike in new cases has brought the total number of people infected in South Korea to 156, according to Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Mr Chung declared Daegu and the surrounding region a “special care zone” as a cluster of new cases were reported in recent days. Daegu is South Korea’s fourth-largest city and home to 2.4m people. Daegu mayor Kwon Young-jin has asked citizens to not travel, while Mr Chung has pledged to concentrate state support to the region by supplying more hospital beds, medical personnel and equipment.

“The government has so far focused on curbing infections coming from outside the country. From now on, the government will further prioritise preventing the virus from spreading locally,” Mr Chung said.

The Seoul city government said on Friday it would ban public rallies in the central business district and close down Shincheonji’s churches in Seoul. It would also temporarily shut more than 3,000 public welfare facilities across the capital.

More infections are likely to be reported by Shincheonji followers. Daegu city authorities said on Friday that more than 400 church members of 3,000 surveyed were showing symptoms.

Tracking the coronavirus outbreak

Steven Bernard on the FT’s data visualisation team has crunched the latest numbers on the coronavirus outbreak. More than 76,000 people globally have been infected with Covid-19, while the death toll has climbed above 2,200.

See more here

China reports 118 new coronavirus deaths

Health authorities in China recorded 118 new coronavirus deaths to the end of Thursday, taking the overall figure to 2,236. That was in line with the figure from a day earlier.

There were 889 new cases across mainland China, taking the total to 75,465. The number was higher than the previous day’s figure, when 394 cases were recorded after some cases were removed following negative laboratory tests for the virus.

Airline body warns of $29bn loss for carriers over coronavirus

A fall in demand for air travel sparked by coronavirus could result in a $29.3bn hit to global airline revenues in 2020, according to an industry body.

The International Air Transport Association forecasts airlines in the Asia-Pacific region could lose $27.8bn in revenue with Chinese airlines losing $12.8bn in the domestic market alone.

Two-thirds of Chinese passenger planes have been grounded as a result of the virus and passenger numbers fell 70 per cent from January 27 to February 12, compared to a year earlier, according to the Civil Aviation Administration of China.

It forecasts a 13 per cent full-year fall in passenger demand in Asia-Pacific for 2020 in what its director general expects to be a “very tough year for airlines”.

“The estimated impact of the Covid-19 outbreak also assumes that the centre of the public health emergency remains in China,” Iata said. “If it spreads more widely to Asia-Pacific markets then impacts on airlines from other regions would be larger.”

US and European airlines have cancelled flights to China, while Singapore Airlines has scaled back flights across its network up until the end of May. Qantas Airways has reduced flights to Asia, citing weak demand.

The estimates are based on how the Sars outbreak hit air travel in 2003, when demand dropped for six months but then saw an “equally quick recovery”, Iata said.

Hubei records 115 new deaths from coronavirus

Alice Woodhouse reports from Hong Kong

Hubei, the Chinese province at the centre of the coronavirus outbreak, reported 115 new deaths to the end of Thursday, taking its total to 2,144. Provincial health authorities said there were 411 new cases, up from the previous day’s tally of 349. The case tally dropped sharply this week after hundreds of clinically diagnosed cases were ruled out following laboratory testing.

There were 319 new cases in Wuhan, the city where the virus was first found, down from 615 a day earlier.

Two Diamond Princess passengers test positive in Australia

Alice Woodhouse reports from Hong Kong

Australian health authorities said two passengers who were evacuated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan have tested positive for coronavirus.

The country evacuated 164 people from the ship in Japan after they tested negative for Covid-19 and did not show any symptoms before the flight.

Australia’s department of health said six people showed minor respiratory symptoms or fever and that they had been separated from the wider group.

More than 600 passengers on the vessel tested positive for coronavirus and two have died. The Diamond Princess was held in quarantine in Japan, but the virus spread through the ship.

The Australians were evacuated from the ship and held in quarantine in Australia for 14 days. Several other countries have arranged evacuations for their nationals.

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