Continue Reading Below
China and other nations have ramped up screenings for fever on aircraft and at airports. The central Chinese city of Wuhan, where the virus is concentrated, closed down its train station and airport Thursday to prevent people from entering or leaving.
Adding to concerns, the outbreak coincides with the annual travel of hundreds of millions of Chinese for the Lunar New Year festival, which begins Friday.
The coronavirus has been confirmed in five countries, including China, the U.S., Thailand, Japan and South Korea. So far, China has confirmed more than 500 people have fallen sick and 17 have died from the illness, which can cause pneumonia and other severe respiratory symptoms.
A World Health Organization committee was scheduled to meet for a second day Thursday as it decides whether to declare China's virus outbreak a global health emergency.
Japan's Nikkei 225 index skidded 1% to 23,795.44, while the Kospi in South Korea sank 0.9% to 2,246.13. In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng dropped 1.5% to 27,909.12, while the Shanghai Composite index declined 2.8% to 2,976.53. Australia's S&P ASX/200 shed 0.6% to 7,088.00. Shares rose in India and Jakarta but fell in Taiwan and Singapore.
"As far as the market is concerned, the current reaction remains mild and perhaps rightly so, given the difficulty to estimate the impact of an evolving syndrome," Jingyi Pan of IG said in a commentary. By postponing a decision on whether the virus is a global health emergency, the WHO helped assuage some fears the crisis is escalating, she said.
In other news, Japan reported Thursday that its trade balance was negative in 2019 for a second straight year, as China-U.S. trade tensions and friction with neighboring South Korea bit into exports.