US equity futures are pointing to yet another lower open on Thursday morning after WaPo interrupted President Trump’s press conference last night to reports the first COVID-19 case “of unknown origin,” which the CDC later confirmed was in Sonoma County, and could be the epicenter of America’s first “community outbreak.” Shortly after, South Korea reported its largest number of new coronavirus cases in a single day, as the number of new cases reported outside China once again surpassed the number inside China. Brazil confirmed the first case in South America yesterday, bringing the virus to every continent except Antarctica.
A few hours later, and South Korea has reported another 171 cases, bringing the total cases confirmed on Thursday to 505 – surpassing China’s daily total (433) for the first time, as Bloomberg pointed out. So far, South Korea has confirmed 1,766 cases, along with 13 deaths, in the 38 days since the first case was reported on Jan. 20. The US and South Korea have cancelled planned military exercises after a US soldier caught the virus in Korea.
Fearing the sudden breakout in the Middle East might spread inside its borders, Saudi Arabia has halted pilgrimages to Islam’s holy sites – known as the Hajj – that are a mandatory practice for Muslims. Across the Persian Gulf, Iran has now confirmed 26 deaths 245 cases. But given the virus’s rapid spread throughout the Islamic Republic, many suspect that the real number of cases is far higher (earlier in the week, a local lawmaker said 50 people had died in the city of Qom alone).
Iran Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said the large number of new cases is due to more labs handling virus tests. He warned that the public should expect more cases in the future.
Yesterday, Greece was one of eight countries – Brazil, Pakistan, North Macedonia, of course Greece, Georgia, Algeria, Norway and Romania – to confirm their first cases. On Thursday, Greece confirmed two more cases, one of them in its capital city of Athens. The initial case was found in Thessaloniki, Greece’s second city.
Following Brazil’s confirmation overnight, its Latin American neighbors are taking steps to stop the virus from spreading across their borders. According to the AP, Peru is keeping a team of specialists working 24/7 at Jorge Chávez International Airport. Argentina has asked citizens to report any flu-like symptom. Puerto Rico has established a task force to prepare for an outbreak in Puerto Rico. And Chile has announced a health emergency and purchased millions of masks and protective outfits for health workers.
But perhaps the biggest story overnight came out of Japan, where the government swore yesterday that the Tokyo Games would take place as scheduled this summer, after an IOC member speculated that if the virus wasn’t cleared up by late May, Japan might be forced to cancel the Olympics.
PM Shinzo Abe asked all schools in Japan to remain closed until the spring holidays begin late next month to try and contain the virus. Abe’s decision follows a rash of new cases reported in the north of Japan, including the first cases in Hokkaido, with no discernible path of origin, Nikkei reports.
As of Thursday, 175 cases have been confirmed across 19 of Japan’s prefectures, including Hokkaido, Tokyo, Aichi, and Chiba. Earlier on Thursday, Hokkaido instituted a weeklong closure of all 1,600 public elementary and junior high schools. Abe made the announcement during a meeting of the government’s headquarters.
Schools must now decide whether to abide by the PM’s non-binding ask, though it’s expected that nearly all schools will comply.
In Australia, which confirmed a handful of cases during the early days of the outbreak, but has since gone quiet, PM Scott Morrison said Thursday in what some might describe as a ‘fearmongering’ speech that “there is every indication that the world will soon enter a pandemic phase of the coronavirus.”
“As a result, we have initiated the implementation of the coronavirus emergency response plan. While the WHO is yet to declare the nature of the coronavirus and its move toward a pandemic phase, we believe that the risk of a global pandemic is very much upon us and as a result, as a government, we need to take steps to prepare.”
WHO’s Dr. Tedros, who yesterday asked officials not to use the word ‘pandemic’, must have been thrilled to hear Morrison’s screed.
Morrison said Australians can still go “to the football match, or the concert” because Australia has “stayed ahead” of the virus. But now it’s time to move onto the next phase, which includes “preparation for the possibility of a much more significant event.”
‘There is every indication that the world will soon enter a pandemic phase of the coronavirus,’ Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said. Governments around the world are ramping up measures to battle a looming pandemic https://t.co/yHNaDgy54y pic.twitter.com/K9SXjTcq85
— Reuters (@Reuters) February 27, 2020
Over in France, French President Emmanuel Macron said “we have a crisis before us. An epidemic is on its way” during a visit to a Paris hospital where coronavirus patients are being treated. His statement followed reports that 2 have died in France, an elderly Christian tourist and a 60-year-old French national. The Frenchman died earlier this week in Paris at the hospital Macron visited Thursday. The total number of cases in France reached 18 on Wednesday, roughly the same number as neighboring Germany.
Spain detected two more cases on Thursday, bringing the total this week to 14. Neither was connected to Italy, health authorities said. Switzerland confirmed 3 more cases, bringing its total to 4, though Swiss authorities said they’re testing 66 others. In Italy, the number of confirmed cases climbed to 528. Of those, 278 are self-isolating at home, 159 recovered with symptoms in hospital and 37 are in intensive care.
As the AP reminds us, Germany’s health minister said Wednesday that the country was “at the beginning of an epidemic” as authorities in the west tested dozens of people. New cases on Thursday brought Germany’s total to 21.
Two new cases confirmed in the UK on Thursday raised the total to 15. A primary school in Buxton was forced to close for “a deep clean” after a parent of one of the students tested positive for the virus.
The EU Commission doubled-down on its anti-border-closure position, saying no EU country wants to close internal borders. Meanwhile, the FT reports that EU officials are weighing the risks of clusters of Italian-style outbreaks surface across the continent.