Two cruise ships isolated in quarantine as China virus hits airlines, carmakers

Multiple deaths have now been reported outside of mainland China

BEIJING/SHANGHAI -- Thousands of passengers and crew on two cruise ships in Asian waters were placed in quarantine for China’s coronavirus on Wednesday as airlines, car manufacturers and other global companies counted the cost of the fast-spreading outbreak.

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China’s National Health Commission said another 65 people had died as of Tuesday, a new daily record, taking the toll on the mainland to 490, most in and around the locked-down central city of Wuhan, where the virus emerged late last year.

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There have been two deaths outside mainland China, both following visits to Wuhan. A man in the Philippines died last week, and a 39-year-old man with underlying illness died in Chinese-ruled Hong Kong on Tuesday.

The virus had disrupted air travel with more than two dozen airlines suspending or restricting flights to China and several countries, including the United States, banning the entry of anyone who has been in China over the previous two weeks.

Taiwan banned the entry of mainland residents from Thursday.

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The disruption spread to cruise ships this week, with about 3,700 people facing at least two weeks locked away on a liner anchored off Japan after health officials confirmed that 10 people aboard had tested positive for the virus.

Passengers on the Diamond Princess posted pictures online of officials in masks and gowns conducting health checks and an empty deck.

“This is not a good situation,” British passenger David Abel said in a video shot in his cabin and posted to Facebook.

In Hong Kong, 3,600 passengers and crew were confined to their ship docked in the city for tests after three people on board had tested positive earlier.

Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific Airways (0293.HK) asked its 27,000 employees to take three weeks of unpaid leave, saying conditions were as grave now as during the 2009 financial crisis.

American Airlines Group (AAL.O) and United Airlines (UAL.O) said they would suspend flights to and from Hong Kong after this week, a step that would leave no U.S. carriers flying passengers to the Asian financial hub.

Nearly $700 billion was wiped off mainland Chinese stocks on Monday with many factories shut, cities cut off and travel links constricted, fuelling worries about global supply chains. Asian stocks steadied on Wednesday.

Hyundai Motor (005380.KS) will suspend production in South Korea because the coronavirus outbreak has disrupted the supply of parts, it said, becoming the first major carmaker to do so outside of China.

Global carmakers have already extended factory closures in China in line with government guidelines. These include Hyundai, Tesla (TSLA.O), Ford (F.N), PSA Peugeot Citroen (PEUP.PA), Nissan (7201.T) and Honda Motor 7267.T.

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Taiwan’s Foxconn (2317.TW), which makes phones for global vendors including Apple (AAPL.O), aims to gradually restart factories in China next week but could take at least a week or two more to resume full production, a person with direct knowledge of the matter said.

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said the epidemic would delay a surge in U.S. exports to China expected from a Phase 1 trade deal set to take effect this month.

Japan’s central bank was ready to ramp up stimulus measures for the world’s third-biggest economy, Deputy Governor Masazumi Wakatabe said, citing uncertainty over the impact of the virus among its woes.

Evidence of human-to-human spread outside China surfaced after an international business gathering in Singapore in January was linked to virus cases reported in Malaysia and South Korea, but authorities did not comment on its nature or the industry involved.

Singapore - one of the worst hit countries outside China in the 2003 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) - has reported 24 cases of the new coronavirus, including some domestic transmissions.

Across mainland China, there were 3,887 new confirmed infections of the coronavirus, making a total of 24,324. Nearly 230 cases have been reported in some 27 countries and regions outside mainland China, a Reuters tally based on official statements shows.

Macau, a gambling hub and like Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China, ordered casinos to suspend operations on Tuesday, effectively halting the lifeblood of its economy in a drastic bid to contain the epidemic.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the flu-like virus a global emergency, but experts say its mortality rate and transmission routes are unknown. Pregnant women may be able to pass it to their unborn child, doctors at the Wuhan Children Hospital said on Wednesday, according to state broadcaster CCTV.

Asked about various media reports of “drug breakthroughs”, WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said: “There are no known effective therapeutics against this 2019-nCoV... A master global clinical trial protocol for research and prioritization of therapeutics is ongoing at the WHO.”

Beijing has criticized as an overreaction U.S. travel curbs that bar foreign nationals who have visited China, and urged Washington to do more to help.

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“We have the ability and confidence to finally win this war of containment,” China’s state councillor Wang Yi told Thailand’s foreign minister in a telephone call on Tuesday, according to China’s foreign ministry.

A Thai taxi-driver who recovered from the infection told a news conference in Bangkok of his shock on catching it.

“I cried because I have to take care of my family,” said the man, who wore a mask to hide his identity, as he left hospital.

He said he had a message of support for Wuhan.

“If I can beat it, so can you.”