Despite US President Donald Trump denounced criticism of his response to the threat as a “hoax” cooked up by his political enemies, the coronavirus outbreak’s impact on the global economy grew more alarming on Saturday.
China’s manufacturing plunged in February by an even wider margin than expected after efforts to contain the virus outbreak shut down much of the world’s second-largest economy, an official survey showed.
The survey, coming as global stock markets fall sharply on fears that the virus will spread abroad, adds to mounting evidence of the vast cost of the disease that emerged in central China in December and its economic impact worldwide.
The monthly purchasing managers’ index issued by the Chinese statistics agency and an industry group fell to 35.7 from January’s 50 on a 100-point scale on which numbers below 50 indicate activity contracting.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced a 270 billion yen (USD 2.5 billion) emergency economic package to help fight the virus as he sought the public’s support for his government’s fight against the outbreak.
Abe said at a news conference that Japan is at critical juncture to determine whether the country can keep the outbreak under control ahead of the Tokyo summer Olympics.
Abe, whose announcement this past week of a plan to close all schools for more than a month through the end of the Japanese academic year sparked public criticism, said the emergency package includes financial support for parents and their employers affected by the school closures.
“Frankly speaking, this battle cannot be won solely by the efforts of the government,” Abe said Saturday.
“We cannot do it without understanding and cooperation from every one of you, including medical institutions, families, companies and local governments.”
Iran is preparing for the possibility of “tens of thousands” of people getting tested for the virus as the number of confirmed cases spiked again Saturday, an official said, underscoring the fear both at home and abroad over the outbreak in the Islamic Republic.
The virus and the COVID-19 illness it causes have killed 43 people out of 593 confirmed cases in Iran, Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said.
The new toll represents a jump of 205 cases — a 150 per cent increase from the 388 reported the day before.
Earlier Saturday, Bahrain threatened legal prosecution against travellers who came from Iran and hadn’t been tested for the virus, and also barred public gatherings for two weeks.
Saudi Arabia said it would bar citizens of the Gulf Cooperation Council from Islam’s holiest sites in Mecca and Medina over concerns about the virus’ spread.
The GCC is a six-nation group including Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
On Thursday, Saudi Arabia closed off the holy sites to foreign pilgrims over the coronavirus, disrupting travel for thousands of Muslims already headed to the kingdom and potentially affecting plans later this year for millions more ahead of the fasting month of Ramadan and the annual hajj pilgrimage.
Despite anxieties about a wider outbreak in the U.S., Trump has defended measures taken and lashed out Friday at Democrats who have questioned his handling of the threat, calling their criticism a new “hoax” intended to undermine his leadership.
The list of countries touched by the virus has climbed to nearly 60.
More than 85,000 people worldwide have contracted the virus, with deaths topping 2,900.
Even in isolated, sanctions-hit North Korea, leader Kim Jong Un called for stronger anti-virus efforts to guard against COVID-19, saying there will be “serious consequences” if the illness spreads to the country.
China has seen a slowdown in new infections and on Saturday morning reported 427 new cases over the past 24 hours along with 47 additional deaths.
The city at the epicenter of the outbreak, Wuhan, accounted for the bulk of both.
The ruling party is striving to restore public and business confidence and avert a deeper economic downturn and politically risky job losses after weeks of disruptions due to the viral outbreak.
South Korea, the second hardest hit country, reported 813 new cases on Saturday — the highest daily jump since confirming its first patient in late January and raising its total to 3,150.