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Coronavirus latest: Large cluster in Seoul raises concerns

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Via Financial Times

South Korea reports 242 new coronavirus cases

By Edward White

South Korea on Wednesday reported 242 additional coronavirus cases, almost double the number of new cases reported on Tuesday, as the emergence of a new outbreak in Seoul worries officials.

The latest increase, which took the total caseload to 7,755, came after the identification of a new cluster of infections at a call centre in Seoul and marked a reversal following four-straight days of declining new infections.

Park Won-soon, Seoul mayor, told a local radio station that 90 new coronavirus cases had been confirmed, all linked to a call centre in the city’s south-west. More than 500 workers at the centre were being screened.

The case has raised concerns that optimism which had been building in recent days over successful efforts to control the outbreak might be premature.

South Korea has for weeks rolled out a programme of mass public testing centred on Daegu, the country’s worst affected area. More than 200,000 tests have been run and the death rate from the virus has remained below 1 per cent despite one of the world’s highest infection tallies outside of China.

Thailand approves $12.7bn of stimulus measures

John Reed reports from Bangkok

Thailand’s cabinet has approved $12.7bn of stimulus measures to protect its economy, which relies heavily on tourism and exports, in the face of the coronavirus outbreak.

The package, announced by the government late on Tuesday, includes low-interest loans, a fund, and tax breaks for those affected by the outbreak. “We are ready to introduce more if necessary,” Lavaron Sangsnit, a senior finance ministry official, told reporters in remarks quoted by Reuters.

Thailand’s economy, the second-largest in south-east Asia after Indonesia’s, was already slowing before the virus hit. Yutthasak Supasorn, the governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, said this week that the country, which hosted 38m tourists last year, could lose almost 10m in a worst-case scenario if the virus is not contained.

Tourism contributes more than 10 per cent of Thailand’s GDP, and passenger traffic at Bangkok’s two main airports is down by more than half compared to 2019 levels.

The government last year introduced smaller-scale stimulus measures targeting Thai consumers aimed at promoting domestic tourism and shopping.

China reports 22 new coronavirus deaths

Health authorities in China reported 22 new deaths from coronavirus to the end of Tuesday, up from 17 a day earlier and taking the total number of fatalities to 3,158.

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There were 24 new cases of the virus in the mainland, up from 19 a day earlier. Wuhan, the centre of the outbreak, accounted for 13 new cases, while 10 were recorded among people who had returned to China from overseas.

The total number of people who have been treated and discharged from hospital rose to 61,475.

Asia: what you might have missed

Google has asked all of its staff based in North America to work from home.

Nadine Dorries, UK junior health minister, has tested positive for coronavirus. Ms Dorries met hundreds of people in Westminster last week and attended a reception at Downing Street with prime minister Boris Johnson.

Walmart has temporarily adjusted its sick leave policy after an employee tested positive for the virus.

A series of events in the US, including the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, have been postponed because of coronavirus. Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders have also cancelled political rallies in Ohio.

Moscow has banned most public events for a month in response to the coronavirus, a measure critics say is an attempt to stop protests against president Vladimir Putin’s move to possibly extend his rule until 2036.

Luigi Di Maio, Italy’s foreign minister, has said the country is turning to China to obtain urgent medical supplies to help its health service cope with the coronavirus outbreak

Congressman to self-quarantine after friend tests positive for coronavirus

Demetri Sevastopulo reports from Washington

Don Beyer, a Virginia Democratic lawmaker, on Tuesday became the latest member of Congress to announce they would self-quarantine after interacting with someone who had contracted the virus.

Mr Beyer said he had dined with a friend who later tested positive for coronavirus. On Monday, Matt Gaetz, a Florida Republican also decided to put himself in isolation, just hours after he had flown on Air Force One with President Donald Trump. The White House has said that the US president has not been tested for the virus.

Mr Gaetz, a Trump supporter who wore a gas mask this week to play down the coronavirus, was isolated in a room on Air Force One after learning just before boarding that he had interacted with a victim. After arriving in Washington, he drove back to Florida and slept in his car in a parking lot because he could not stay in a hotel. “He wasn’t joking – he slept in a Walmart parking lot,” his office told the Financial Times.

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The House and Senate are due go on recess next week, but members are debating whether to extend the recess, as some companies across the US urge workers to telecommute if possible. One Republican lawmaker said there was much discussion about whether they should extend the recess, particularly as Mr Trump and his economic team work with Congress to pass a stimulus package to help the economy weather the impact of the outbreak.

Australia to set up pop-up coronavirus testing clinics

Jamie Smyth reports from Sydney

Australia is spending an extra A$2.4bn ($1.6bn) on health services, including setting up 100 ‘pop-up’ testing clinics and a new telephone health advice service, in response to the spread of the coronavirus.

It is also introducing a travel ban on all non residents seeking to travel to Australia from Italy, as the rate of infections continues to increase in the European nation, Scott Morrison, Australia’s prime minister said on Wednesday.

Canberra has already banned non residents who have travelled through China, South Korea and Iran in the last 14 days from entering Australia.

The 100 “pop-up” respiratory clinics are designed to take the pressure off hospitals, which have been inundated by people seeking tests for the coronavirus.

Australian authorities have appealed to people to only seek testing if they have travelled overseas or come into contact with someone who has been diagnosed with the virus.

Australian states have already begun establishing pop up clinics, including a drive-through testing clinic in Adelaide that can receive a patient every 20 minutes.

A telehealth system is being established to provide people in home isolation or quarantine with advice via telephone or video streaming services such as Skype or Facetime.

Seoul mayor raises concern over new virus cluster

By Edward White

South Korea has reported 90 new coronavirus cases linked to a call centre in Seoul, the city’s mayor said Wednesday, potentially reversing the country’s falling rate of new infections seen over the past week.

South Korea on Tuesday reported its fourth consecutive day of declining new coronavirus cases in the latest sign health officials are bringing one of the world’s worst outbreaks under control after weeks of mass testing.

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Daegu, South Korea’s fourth-biggest city has been at the heart of the country’s outbreak with the vast majority of the country’s cases to date.

But the comments from Seoul mayor Park Won-soon in a radio interview on Wednesday morning, raised concerns of a fresh outbreak hitting the sprawling capital’s 25m residents, nearly half the South Korean population.

The Korea Centres for Disease Control on Tuesday morning reported 131 new cases, the lowest since February 25.

The total number of infections is now above 7,500, with more than 50 deaths. Officials have run more than 210,000 tests with around 10,000 tests carried out each day.

Australian central bank chief warns of hit from China disruption

Jamie Smyth reports from Sydney

Australia’s central bank has warned a delayed return to work in China due to the coronavirus would dent the local economy but said a combination of monetary and fiscal stimulus should enable it to bounce back once the virus is contained.

Guy Debelle, Reserve Bank of Australia deputy governor, said on Wednesday there is still significant disruption to the Chinese economy following the prolonged shut down over its lunar new year holiday. It is very uncertain how long it will take to repair severe disruption to supply chains, he said.

“The straight arithmetic of losing a substantial amount of output over a period of several weeks implies a significant hit to economic activity,” Mr Debelle said in a speech.

China is Australia’s largest trading partner and a collapse in student numbers and tourists from the country, with inbound airline capacity slumping 90 per cent from China, is forecast to subtract 0.5 per cent of growth from gross domestic product in the March quarter.

Mr Debelle said it was too uncertain to assess the impact of the virus beyond the March quarter. But he said there was no indication of disruption to exports of iron ore or coal at this stage and prices remained resilient- a factor that should support exports.

Mr Debelle said a government stimulus package, which is due to be announced this week, and record low interest rates would support the economy.

“The combined effect of fiscal and monetary policy will help us navigate a difficult period for the Australian economy. They will also help ensure the Australian economy is well placed to bounce back quickly once the virus is contained,” said Mr Debelle.

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