When American traders logged off on Friday, they might have noticed a few suspicious headlines out of Italy reporting a sudden spike in cases. But anybody who spent the weekend away from their desks and Twitter might be surprised to find that the Europe’s third-largest economy is now host to a genuine crisis.
As we reported over the weekend, more than a dozen towns in Lombardy – the hardest hit region with 167 confirmed cases and 4 deaths – are on complete lockdown. According to the latest update, there are now 219 confirmed cases in Italy, as well as five deaths.
Angelo Borrelli, head of the country’s civil protection agency, said Monday during a press briefing that another 91 people are currently in isolation inside their homes.
Following the weekend spike, Italy’s neighbors are getting nervous. Austria is exploring border controls, though Germany said Monday that it’s not currently considering closing its borders with Italy, an obvious attempt by the de facto leader of the EU to try and quell a continent-wide panic.
Elsewhere, more countries are tightening restrictions on South Koera. Hong Kong on Monday declared that it would stop non-residents from South Korea from entering Hong Kong.
In Italy, it seems like most of the dead fit the profile of elderly patients with co-occurring health problems. One of the two most recent deaths was reported to be a man from the village of Val Alzano Lombardo. He died at the Papa Giovanni XXIII hospital in Bergamo, near Milan. The hospital said the 83-year-old man (reports on his age differ) had a serious underlying health problem, but it didn’t specify what it was, according to CNN.
As WHO officials finished off preparations for their big press conference Monday morning, Beijing announced that it would delay the National People’s Congress, which had been set for early March. The move was telegraphed by leaked media reports well in advance.
Officials said Monday the key political meetings, originally due to take place from March 5, would be rescheduled. Analysts said the government in Beijing was worried about the optics of holding a large-scale public event while millions are living under lockdown. We agree – that would not be a good look for the CCP right now, especially after all of those videos of police rounding up violators of the lockdown who were probably just trying to find something to eat.
President Xi said one day earlier that China is in a “crisis” that would inevitably impact the country’s economy. But whatever the fallout, he promised it would be brief and manageable.
Following the departure of the WHO team from Wuhan, local authorities made an extraordinary decision: all of a sudden, the cities’ most senior officials announced a loosening of the city’s lockdown. Millions rejoiced.
But they were soon disappointed: Because three hours later, the order was reversed, we assume, after Beijing caught wind of it.
According to the SCMP, the retracted announcement was issued by a ‘subordinate working group’ that didn’t have official approval from their superiors. The individuals responsible will be ‘reprimanded’. The lockdown has been in effect since Jan. 23.
The order would have allowed non-residents with no symptoms and no contact with infected patients to leave, a decision that would have freed thousands of foreign students.
In other news, Guangdong, China’s second worst-hit province, has downgraded its level of alert, with local officials saying the outbreak has mostly been contained to Hubei.
As we reported last night, figures released early Monday in China reported 409 new cases of the novel coronavirus and 150 new deaths from the outbreak on Sunday. That brings the total number of confirmed cases to 77,150, with a death toll of 2,592 (which will be higher if the Iran deaths are confirmed). The majority of new cases, 398, were in Hubei.
In Israel, PM Benjamin Netanyahu is fighting for his political future in a critical upcoming election that could see him jailed if he doesn’t hang on to power. So the heavy-handed measures to contain foreigners suspected of carrying the virus are hardly a surprise. In the latest step to contain the virus, Israel will send hundreds of East Asian nationals back to their home countries in the coming days, according to the Israel Airport Authority.
Now, just imagine if Trump did that.
Vietnamese airline Bamboo Airways is suspending all flights to South Korea starting from Feb. 26.
In closing, we bring you comments made by Warren Buffett in an interview with CNBC, a clip of which was released on Monday. The ‘Oracle of Omaha’ said the virus is ‘scary stuff’. But it shouldn’t impact humans’ decisions about whether to buy or sell stocks, Buffett said, alluding to the old Ben Graham axiom that stocks should be bought and held based on the fundamental value of the underlying company.
But as twitter’s Mark Spiegel joked, Buffett’s remarks had an unexpected connotation:
Translation: “It shouldn’t affect what you do in stocks because ‘the human race’ no longer controls those.” https://t.co/EK5TKcO6kg
— Mark B. Spiegel (@markbspiegel) February 24, 2020
Humans don’t buy stocks anymore, dummy!