* South Korea reports a further increase in infections in 346 cases
* China c. The bank says the impact will be limited to lower key interest rates
* The WHO warns of a narrowing of the windows to limit the spread of viruses
* First death reported in Italy; Cruise evacuees test positive in Australia
* US markets plunge due to concerns that the Cornona virus will weigh on businesses
By Samuel Shen and Cheng Leng
SHANGHAI / BEIJING, February 22 (Reuters). China reported a drop in the number of new coronavirus deaths and new cases on Saturday, while the central bank forecast a limited short-term economic impact, saying the country is confident of winning the country’s fight against the epidemic.
Mainland China had 397 new confirmed cases of coronavirus infections on Friday, up from 889 the previous day, the national health agency said.
But the number of infections continued to increase elsewhere, and the outbreaks in South Korea, Italy, Iran and Lebanon increased. The World Health Organization warned that the window of opportunity to curb international distribution was closing.
Concerns about the virus weighed on US stocks, and the Nasdaq saw its worst daily percentage decline in about three weeks on Friday, reflecting an earlier surge in new cases and data showing US business stalled in February fell.
South Korea reported a further increase in infections with 142 confirmed cases on Saturday, increasing to 346. About half of these concerned those who attended a service in Daegu. Hospital cases increased from 16 to 108 overnight.
The virus has spread to 26 countries and territories outside of mainland China, killing eleven people, according to Reuters.
“We still have a chance to contain it,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director General, on Friday.
“If we don’t, if we miss the opportunity, there will be a serious problem for us.”
An outbreak in northern Italy worsened an older man under 17 confirmed cases, including his first known case of local transmission, with his first death.
The total number of confirmed cases in mainland China rose to 76,288, with the death toll at the end of Friday at 2,345. The central province of Hubei, the epicenter of the outbreak, reported 106 new deaths, 90 of which were in the capital, Wuhan.
Chinese scientists reported on Friday that a woman from Wuhan had traveled 675 km and infected five relatives without ever showing signs of infection, which provided new evidence of asymptomatic spread.
Senior Chinese central bank officials tried to alleviate global investors’ concerns about the potential damage to the world’s second largest economy from the outbreak. They said interest rates would be lowered and the country’s financial system and currency would be resilient.
Chen Yulu, a deputy governor of the People’s Bank of China, said policymakers have numerous tools to support the economy and are fully confident of winning the war against the epidemic, according to China Central Television (CCTV).
“We believe that once this epidemic ends, pent-up consumption and investment will be released and China’s economy will recover quickly,” Chen said.
China recently cut some of its key interest rates, including Thursday’s base rate, and asked banks to lend cheaply to the hardest-hit companies that are having trouble resuming production and running out of money.
Some analysts believe China’s economy may contract in the first quarter of the past three months due to the combined supply and demand shocks caused by the rapidly expanding epidemic and stringent government containment measures. Some warn each year that 6% growth could fall by half in the fourth quarter.
Most expect economic activity to recover in the spring, provided the outbreak can be contained soon and factories affected by staff and resource shortages can return to normal production in the next few weeks.
However, transportation restrictions still exist in large parts of the country. As more and more companies are reopening, the limited data available so far indicate that manufacturing is still far below the level of the same period last year and disruptions in global supply chains extend to the United States.
CFOs from the group of 20 major economies should discuss the risks to the global economy in Saudi Arabia this weekend. The International Monetary Fund said it was too early to assess the virus’ impact on global growth.
Another infection center is the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which has been quarantined in Japan since February 3. More than 630 cases make up the largest cluster outside of China.
Australia said on Saturday that four more of its evacuated nationals had tested positive for coronavirus in addition to two previously identified people.
A second aircraft with 82 Hong Kong residents on the ship landed in the Asian financial center, where they are quarantined for another 14 days. Around 35 British passengers were due to return home on Saturday, where they would be quarantined.[nL8N2AL1DP[nL8N2AL1DP[nL8N2AL1DP[nL8N2AL1DP
The U.S. authorities said 18 of 329 Americans evacuated from the ship tested positive.
The Ukrainian Minister of Health quarantined Friday in a sanatorium for two weeks among evacuees from China to demonstrate solidarity after fears of the possible spread of the coronavirus led to clashes.
(Reporting by Samuel Shen and Se Young Lee and Yiming Shen in Shanghai, Leng Cheng and Kevin Yao in Beijing; Additional reporting by Sangmi Cha in Seoul, Kate Kelland and Stephen Addison in London, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Elisa Anzolin in Milan, Angelo Amante in Rome, Lidia Kelly in Melborne, Dan Burns in New York, Julie Steenhuysen in Chicago, Davide Barbuscia and Andrea Shalal in Riyadh, Pavel Polityuk and Natalia Zinets in Kiev, Greg Torode in Hong Kong and Neha Malara and Arundhati Sarkar in Bengaluru; writing by Martin Petty; editor of Kim Coghill)