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. Such was the anxiety that some Chinese were asking HIV patients for medicines.
But Xi, again seeking to prevent global panic, said China’s strong mobilisation capacity and rich experience in public health would enable it to beat the coronavirus.
“The whole country has responded with all its strength to respond with the most thorough and strict prevention and control measures, starting a people’s war for epidemic prevention and control,” Xinhua news agency quoted him as saying in a telephone call with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman.
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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 cases.
Gay Courter, a 75-year-old American novelist on board, appealed for the U.S. government to take 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.
Financial analysts have cut China’s growth outlook, with ratings agency Moody’s flagging risks for auto sales and output.
Nintendo Co Ltd (7974.T) warned on Thursday of delays to production and shipping of its Switch console and other goods to the Japan market. Honda Motor Co (7267.T) 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 still expected China to maintain its commitment to boost purchases of American goods and services by at least $200 billion 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 the global economy would avoid long-term damage from the virus.
China, which has bristled at being ostracised, was considering delaying an annual meeting of its highest legislative body, the National People’s Congress, from March 5, sources said.
RUSH FOR HIV DRUG
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 (ABBV.N) off-patent version of lopinavir/ritonavir and the only version approved for sale in China.
Devy, a 38-year-old from 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 masks bound for a municipality with 400 cases.
In the overwhelmed province of Hubei, of which Wuhan is the capital, authorities said they needed another 2,250 medical staff at least. And around a nation unaccustomed to widespread working from home, the epidemic has forced millions of white-collar workers to get used to just that.
The epidemic brushed up against geopolitics when the United States and China clashed on Thursday over the issue of self-ruled Taiwan’s exclusion from World Health Organization (WHO) meetings, where it is represented by China.
Beijing complained of political “hype-up”.
(Graphic: Comparing new coronavirus to SARS and MERS, here)
(Graphic: Tracking the novel coronavirus, here)
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 Nick Macfie and Andrew Cawthorne