(Revised Chinese nationwide numbers; adds details on Australian cruise ships, profit warnings for cruise ships, and economists’ estimates)
* According to China, cases on the mainland increase by 5,090, 121 new deaths
* Japan reports the first death, the third outside of mainland China
* Trump praises China’s reaction, top advisors more critical
* Graphic: https://tmsnrt.rs/3aIRuz7
By Yilei Sun and Prak Chan Thul
BEIJING / SIHANOUKVILLE, Cambodia, February 14 (Reuters) – China’s coronavirus outbreak showed no signs of peaking to health officials on Friday and reported more than 5,000 new cases while boarding a cruise ship that was blocked by virus fears from five countries , finally got out in Cambodia.
News of the virus’s first death in Japan shook Asian markets, which were already nervous after the hope of the epidemic stabilizing seemed to have been dashed by a sharp rise in case numbers on Thursday.
In its latest update, the Chinese National Health Commission announced that it registered 121 new deaths and 5,090 new coronavirus cases on the mainland on February 13, bringing the total number of people infected to 63,851.
55,748 people are currently being treated, while 1,380 have died from the flu-like virus that hit Wuhan in the capital of Hubei Province in December.
The new numbers give no indication that the outbreak is at a peak, said Adam Kamradt-Scott, an infectious disease expert at the Center for International Security Studies at the University of Sydney.
“Given the current trend in confirmed cases, this appears to be a clear indication that while the Chinese authorities are doing their best to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the drastic measures taken so far have been too late,” he said.
The epidemic has presented China’s ruling Communist Party with one of the greatest challenges in years, restricted the world’s second largest economy, and triggered a cleanup of provincial bureaucrats.
Japan confirmed its first coronavirus death on Thursday – a woman in her eighties who lives in Kanagawa Prefecture near Tokyo. The death was the third outside of mainland China, after two more in Hong Kong and the Philippines.
Japan is one of the worst affected countries in more than two dozen countries and areas outside of mainland China, where hundreds of infections have occurred.
Japanese decision-makers promised to step up testing and containment efforts after death and confirmation of new cases, including a doctor and a taxi driver.
The third largest economy in the world is already preparing for a sharp slowdown in growth, and some analysts expect a further decline in the current quarter as the virus outbreak affects exports, production and consumption due to a sharp decline in overseas tourists.
“Investors will certainly avoid Asia for the time being and move funds that are geographically the most separated from the region to the United States,” said Norihiro Fujito, chief investment strategist at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities.
CAMBODIA WELCOMES CRUISE PASSENGERS
More than 200 people have confirmed the disease in a cruise ship that was quarantined in front of a Japanese port. The authorities have announced that some older people may disembark on Friday.
Passengers on another cruise ship that had spent two weeks at sea after being rejected by five countries for coronavirus fears started disembarking in Cambodia on Friday.
The MS Westerdam with 1,455 passengers and 802 crew members docked in the Cambodian port city of Sihanoukville on Thursday. It was anchored off the coast in the early morning so that Cambodian officials could get on board and collect samples of passengers with signs of illness or flu-like symptoms.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen greeted the passengers with handshakes and bouquets of roses as they got out of the ship and boarded a waiting bus.
“My wife and I gave him chocolates as a token of our appreciation,” Lou Jerseyer, a New Jersey tourist, told Reuters after he disembarked and met the Cambodian leader.
Australian health officials tested a passenger aboard another cruise ship that moored in Sydney harbor on Friday for “respiratory disease,” which worried passengers about the potential for another coronavirus outbreak on board.
The Ministry of Health has neither specified the type of respiratory disease nor explicitly excluded the coronavirus.
Regardless, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd announced that it had canceled 18 cruises in Southeast Asia and joined larger rival Carnival Corp to warn that the outbreak of the coronavirus would affect the full-year result.
The global health authorities are still trying to find “Patient Zero” – a person who transferred the disease to a business meeting in Singapore from which it spread to five other countries.
The increase in cases reported in China on Thursday reflected the authorities ‘decision to reclassify a backlog of suspect cases based on patients’ chest images and did not necessarily indicate a major epidemic, a World Health Organization official said Thursday.
Economists assess the impact of the outbreak on the second largest economy in the world and reduce their growth expectations this year.
After the extended New Year holidays, many migrant workers may still be stuck in their hometowns, far from their factories. Nomura’s analysts estimated that only about 21% had returned by Thursday.
China’s economy will grow at the slowest rate since the global financial crisis this quarter, according to a Reuters poll of economists that said the downturn will be short-lived if the outbreak is contained.
(Reporting by Yilei Sun, Vincent Lee and David Stanway in Beijing; Prak Chan Thul in Sihanoukville; Hideyuki Sano in Tokyo; Colin Packham and Paulina Duran in Sydney; Uday Sampath in Bengaluru; writing by Lincoln Feast; editing by Stephen Coates)