Coronavirus latest: Saudi Arabia suspends entry for pilgrims
Japan’s largest banking group confirms case at Konan City branch
Leo Lewis in Tokyo
Japan’s largest banking group, MUFG, confirmed that an employee at its branch in Konan City had contracted Covid-19 and that it was currently disinfecting the premises.
The employee, who has not recently travelled outside Japan, was treated by a doctor on February 25 and tested positive for Covid-19 the following day. The branch of MUFG in Aichi prefecture is one of the bank’s domestic network of 750 branches and is around 260km from Tokyo.
In a statement, MUFG said that it was currently determining the recent movements of the employee before the virus was detected, and their possible contact with customers. Other staff who may have been exposed are being asked to remain at home.
Japan’s retail banks have a large base of elderly customers and have been slow to match their peers around the world in certain technologies. That means that bank branches tend to receive large numbers of customers every day, many of them coming to conduct business that would be handled through internet banking in other countries.
Panasonic requires employees to work from home
Kana Inagaki reports from Tokyo
Panasonic has joined other Japanese corporations in requiring remote working at home for some 2,000 employees at its office in central Tokyo following the coronavirus outbreak in the country.
The move came after prime minister Shinzo Abe made an explicit plea for companies to let staff work remotely if possible. The business community is scrambling to meet the edict although many companies in Japan still do not actually have the systems in place to allow it.
The measure mostly affects staff in Panasonic’s connected solutions business and encourages them to stay away from crowded areas to prevent the spread of the outbreak.
Dentsu, Japan’s largest advertising agency, announced two days ago that a male employee tested positive for coronavirus. Its 5,000 staff at its Shiodome head office, near where Panasonic’s Tokyo office is located, began remote working from Wednesday.
Cosmetics group Shiseido, which is also based in the same area, said it would take a similar measure for its 8,000 employees until March 6.
Trump seeks to defuse coronavirus threat
James Politi reports from Washington
Donald Trump has tapped Mike Pence, the US vice-president, to co-ordinate Washington’s response to the spread of the coronavirus, as the US president sought to defuse criticism of his handling of the health crisis and predicted equity markets would bounce back.
The president has been facing mounting pressure to more aggressively tackle the prospects of an outbreak in the US, with Democratic politicians accusing him of playing down the crisis despite rising fears of a broader economic and financial fallout from the virus.
“The risk to the American people remains very low. We are ready to adapt and we are ready to do whatever we have to as the disease spreads, if it spreads,” Mr Trump said during a rare press conference from the White House briefing room. “There’s no reason to panic . . . this will end”.
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China reports 29 coronavirus deaths
China reported 29 deaths from coronavirus to the end of Wednesday, down from 52 fatalities on the previous day. Wednesday’s figure takes the total number of deaths to 2715.
There were 433 new cases of the virus on Wednesday, in line with the previous day’s figures. Those new cases bring the overall figure within mainland China to 78,497.
The World Health Organisation noted on Wednesday that the number of new cases reported outside China had exceeded that within the country for the first time.
US and South Korea postpone military drills
Edward White reports from Seoul
The US and South Korea postponed upcoming joint military drills as allies try to protect troops from the outbreak of coronavirus in South Korea.
The decision was signalled earlier in the week by Mark Esper, the US defence secretary, and comes as Seoul struggles to stem the flow of a rising numbers of infections.
The US has 28,500 troops stationed in South Korea to support the country against a potential attack from North Korea.
The call to suspend the military exercises until further notice comes a day after a US soldier tested positive for coronavirus in South Korea, in the first confirmed case for the US military.
South Korea has been hit with 13 deaths and 1,595 confirmed cases, reflecting an increase of more than 300 overnight, according to the latest figures from the Korea Centers for Disease Control. Tests have been carried out on more than 35,000 people and more than 21,000 are currently being tested.
The outbreak has centred on Daegu, the country’s fourth-biggest city, where most cases have been linked to a pseudo-Christian sect, but criticism is also being levelled at the government for not blocking travellers from China. The government has pledged to test the sect’s 215,000 members.
India evacuates 119 of its citizens from Diamond Princess cruise ship
Amy Kazmin reports from New Delhi
India has evacuated 119 of its citizens, and five others, who had been stuck onboard the stricken Diamond Princess cruise ship docked in Japan.
The special Air India flight that carried the Indians, mostly crew members working aboard the blighted ship, landed early Thursday morning.
Only those Indians that had tested negative for the coronavirus and had also passed another special medical check were permitted to be evacuated.
Another 16 Indians that had contracted the virus on the ship remain in Japan where they are undergoing treatment. Indian officials in Japan said all are recovering well so far.
In an early morning tweet, India’s Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar confirmed the landing and expressed thanks to Japanese authorities.
The flight also carried five citizens from Sri Lanka, Nepal, South Africa and Peru who had been onboard the ship.
The special flight by state-owned Air India marks the third evacuation flight India has conducted since the coronavirus outbreak began.
Earlier, India evacuated two planeloads of students and professionals from Wuhan, who were kept in quarantine for two weeks at special Indian military facilities before they were permitted to return home.
Aside from the Diamond Princess crew members, India has so far confirmed just three cases of coronavirus, all of whom were students returned from Wuhan. All three have since recovered.
South Korea holds rates despite virus worries
Edward White reports from Seoul
South Korea held its benchmark interest rate on Thursday, bucking some market expectations that a rate cut would be used to shore up growth as the export-driven economy struggles with the fallout from the coronavirus.
The Bank of Korea on Thursday held its main policy rate at a record low of 1.25 per cent. Expectations for monetary policy easing have risen rapidly over the past week as the number of infections from the virus in South Korea has soared. By Wednesday 18 out of 28 economists polled by Bloomberg expected to see the rate cut to a record low.
The central bank slashed its forecast for gross domestic product growth for 2020 to 2.1 per cent from 2.3 per cent.
South Korea, one of the worst hit countries outside China, has recorded 12 deaths from the virus and more than 1,595 confirmed cases, according to the latest figures from the Korea Centers for Disease Control.
North Korea extends virus lockdown to schools
Edward White reports from Seoul
North Korea has postponed the opening of schools and kindergartens, as Pyongyang extends its lockdown of the country in response to the coronavirus that has spread through neighbouring China and South Korea.
The move was reported by Korean Central Broadcasting Station on Thursday morning, according to South Korea’s state news agency.
It comes after Pyongyang in January moved to sharply reduce trade and travel across its borders and strictly enforced quarantines for any recent arrivals, including foreign diplomats.
While no coronavirus cases have been confirmed in North Korea, analysts have warned that the country is particularly vulnerable given the poor state of its public health system.
International health experts have also voiced concern that sanctions – in place in response to North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats – could slow the provision of medical supplies, including virus testing equipment.
However, organisations, including the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, have in recent days started to receive sanctions exemptions to provide such equipment.
Read more on North Korea’s reaction to coronavirus here.
Japanese woman treated for coronavirus tests positive again
Robin Harding reports from Tokyo
The challenges of treating Covid-19 have been shown again by the relapse of a woman in Osaka, Japan, who was thought to be cured of the disease.
Prefectural authorities announced last night that one of Japan’s first cases of coronavirus, a woman in her 40s who worked as a tour guide for tourists from Wuhan, had tested positive four weeks after she was discharged from hospital and three weeks after a previous negative test.
It is possible that the disease lingered in her body or that she was reinfected at a later date. Her case shows the potential for false negatives, a further challenge to preventing the spread of the disease.
The woman’s case was first announced on January 29 and she was discharged from hospital on February 1. On February 6, a test showed her to be free of the coronavirus. But from February 19 she began to complain of a sore throat and pain in her chest. A fresh test on February 26 returned positive for Covid-19.
Saudi Arabia suspends entry for pilgrims
Ahmed Al Omran reports from Riyadh
Saudi Arabia has announced it will suspend the entry of religious pilgrims as a precautionary measure in a bid to slow the spread of coronavirus.
The kingdom is also suspending tourist visa entry from countries where the coronavirus is spreading, the foreign ministry said in a statement.