By David Stanway, Roxanne Liu
SHANGHAI/BEIJING (Reuters) – Chinese President Xi Jinping declared a “people’s war” on Thursday against the fast-spreading coronavirus whose impact has been felt around the world from slowing factory floors to quarantined cruise liners.
The death toll in mainland China jumped by 73 to 563, with more than 28,000 infections also confirmed inside the world’s second largest economy.
Xi, speaking to Saudi Arabia’s King Salman by telephone, said the whole nation was working as one to combat the virus and would maintain transparency.
“China has a strong mobilization capacity, rich experience in responding to public health incidents and is confident and capable of winning the battle for epidemic prevention and control,” Xinhua news agency paraphrased him as saying.
In a striking image of the epidemic’s reach, about 3,700 people moored off Japan on the Diamond Princess faced testing and quarantine for at least two weeks on the ship, which has 20 virus cases. Japan now has 45 cases.
Gay Courter, a 75-year-old American novelist on board, said he hoped the U.S. government would take the Americans off.
“It’s better for us to travel while healthy and also, if we get sick, to be treated in American hospitals,” he told Reuters.
In Hong Kong, another cruise ship with 3,600 passengers and crew was quarantined for a second day pending testing after three cases on board. Taiwan, which has 13 cases, banned international cruise ships from docking.
In China, sometimes dubbed the world’s workshop, cities have been shut off, flights cancelled and factories closed, shutting supply lines crucial to international businesses.
Companies including Hyundai Motor, Tesla, Ford, PSA Peugeot Citroen, Nissan, Airbus, Adidas and Foxconn are taking hits.
Financial analysts have cut China’s growth outlook, with ratings agency Moody’s flagging risks for auto sales and output.
Nintendo Co Ltd said on Thursday delays to production and shipping of its Switch console and other goods to the Japan market were “unavoidable”.
Honda Motor Co was considering keeping operations suspended for longer than planned at its three plants in Wuhan, the epicentre of the virus, Japan’s Nikkei newspaper reported.
Indonesia said it stands to lose $4 billion in tourism if travel from China is disrupted for the whole year.
More than two dozen large trade fairs and industry conferences in Asia, where billions of dollars worth of deals are usually done, have been postponed.
Chinese-ruled Hong Kong, hit by months of anti-China unrest, said the coronavirus was hurting its economy and urged banks to adopt a “sympathetic stance” with borrowers.
But U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he expected China to maintain its commitment to boost purchases of American goods and services over the next two years, as part of a Phase 1 trade deal.
And stock markets across the world rose on Thursday, buoyed by record highs on Wall Street and a move by China to halve tariffs on some U.S. goods that emboldened bets that the global economy would avoid long-term damage from the coronavirus.
RUSH FOR HIV DRUG
China, which has bristled at being ostracized, was considering delaying an annual meeting of its highest legislative body, the National People’s Congress, from March 5, sources said.
Several countries, including the United States, have banned entry to visitors who have been in China over the previous two weeks.
The World Health Organization (WHO) is investigating three virus infections linked to an international business meeting in Singapore last month. Singapore has reported 30 infections, some involving in-country person-to-person transmission.
Health officials in the United States and China want to get a vaccine to initial human testing within months, but drugmakers have cautioned they have a long way to go.
“There are no known effective therapeutics,” WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said, when asked about reports of “breakthroughs” that boosted markets on Wednesday.
China’s National Health Commision said the HIV drug lopinavir/ritonavir could be used for coronavirus patients, without specifying how.
That triggered a rush, specifically for Kaletra, also known as Aluvia, which is drugmaker AbbVie’s off-patent version of lopinavir/ritonavir and the only version approved for sale in China.
Devy, a 38-year-old freelancer in Shandong province, said he was among hundreds who had asked people with HIV for medicine.
“When you are left alone, seeing the blur shadow of death far away, I think no one can feel calm,” Devy told Reuters.
People were also desperate for face masks. The city of Dali city, in southwestern Yunnan province, with only eight confirmed cases of the virus, was accused of intercepting a shipment of surgical masks bound for a municipality with 400 cases.
More than two dozen airlines have suspended or restricted flights to China and hundreds of foreigners have been evacuated from Wuhan.
The United States and China clashed on Thursday over the issue of self-ruled Taiwan’s exclusion from WHO meetings, where it is represented by China, with Beijing alleging political “hype-up”.
Reporting by Lusha Zhang, Ryan Woo, Roxanne Liu, Liangping Gao, Sophie Yu and Se Young Lee in Beijing; David Stanway, Yilei Sun and Winni Zhou in Shanghai; Alun John and Noah Sin in Hong Kong; Ju-min Park in Tokyo; Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Kate Kelland in London; Writing by Robert Birsel and Nick Macfie; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne.