Hong Kong reports first coronavirus death as Macau closes casinos

Science & Health

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Macau’s gone quiet.

The global number of confirmed deaths from the coronavirus outbreak has risen to 427, with two now occurring outside of mainland China. The Financial Times reports:

Hong Kong reported its first death from the coronavirus outbreak as neighbouring Macau said it was shutting its $40 billion casino industry for two weeks in a bid to counter the disease’s spread.

Hong Kong’s Hospital Authority on Tuesday confirmed the death of a 39-year-old man who suffered from an underlying health condition, marking the second fatality from the outbreak outside mainland China. He had returned to the territory on January 23 following a trip to Wuhan, the central Chinese city at the centre of the outbreak. His infection was confirmed on January 31…

The spread of coronavirus from mainland China threatens to deal a heavy blow to the economies of Hong Kong, which is already mired in recession, and Macau, where the gambling sector accounts for about 80 percent of tax revenues.

The previous coronavirus death outside of mainland China occurred over the weekend in the Philippines, as we noted yesterday.

However, “currently we are not in a pandemic,” per Sylvie Briand, head of WHO’s Global Infectious Hazard Preparedness division, AFP reports. Rather, Briand described it as “an epidemic with multiple foci,” as outside of Hubei Province, most pockets of transmission are “spillover cases” from Hubei itself. “We would like to make sure that we don’t have a second Hubei type of scenario,” Briand added.

Hongkongers would rather not risk a “Hubei type of scenario.” Per the Hong Kong Free Press:

Thousands of medical workers in Hong Kong joined a second day of strikes on Tuesday to put pressure on the government to impose a full shutdown of the Chinese border to curb the coronavirus outbreak…

The Hospital Authority Employees Alliance (HAEA) estimated that around 7,000 medics took part in the strike. Members of the union gathered at the Hospital Authority head office in the morning as more than 4,000 workers submitted petition letters to the authority.

Hong Kong yesterday closed nearly all land crossings to and from the mainland, but migration has not been barred completely. Quartz reports that the “coronavirus is now at the center of Hong Kong’s protests”:

According to polling, 80 percent of Hong Kongers support this demand [to close the border]… Lunchtime protests, which in earlier months focused on calling for greater democracy and decrying police brutality, today [February 3] turned their attention to the border closure.

The past two weekends have also seen protests in residential neighborhoods where the government had designated nearby facilities as quarantine sites. Even prominent pro-government figures have urged authorities to immediately shut the border, and the city’s largest pro-Beijing party has called for a temporary ban on all into Hong Kong from mainland China.

Here is a selection of the most important news about the 2019-nCoV outbreak and its effects:

Secretary-General Xí Jìnpíng 习近平 “presided over a meeting of senior Communist Party leaders at which they acknowledged shortcomings in policies on public health and emergency management, according to a report by China’s official news agency,” the New York Times says. “The leaders called the coronavirus epidemic ‘a major test of China’s system and capacity for governance.’”

“On Tuesday, the Commission for Discipline Inspection of Wuhan removed multiple officials in Hubei from their posts, according to a report by the Hubei Daily, the official newspaper of the provincial Party committee,” the Global Times reports. Among the officials taken down are Xià Guóhuá 夏国华, the deputy head of Hubei Provincial Statistics Bureau, and three officials from the Red Cross Society of China’s Hubei branch.

Japan got some rare love from China: A foreign ministry spokesperson said “the Japanese government and its people from all walks of life have expressed sympathy, understanding and support to us,” per the SCMP. Quartz has more on Chinese internet users expressing thanks for Japan’s support for China during the crisis.

“Equities rebounded from Shanghai and Hong Kong to Seoul and Taipei in the wake of a record $720 billion wipeout in China on Monday…. Investors are weighing China travel restrictions and business shut-downs alongside measures Beijing is introducing to support growth as the hit to the country’s economy mounts,” Bloomberg reports via Yahoo.

“Coronavirus forces world’s largest work-from-home experiment” is a headline from Bloomberg describing the unpredictable economic effect of the weeklong extension of the Lunar New Year holiday. It’s not necessarily going to have a negative effect, as “a 2015 study from Stanford University in California found that productivity among call-center employees at Chinese travel agency Ctrip went up by 13 percent when they worked from home due to fewer breaks and more comfortable work environments.” The companies most affected by the work-from-home surge include Alibaba’s DingTalk and Tencent’s WeChat Work, per TechNode, and also ride-hailing platform Didi Chuxing.

Hyandai said it had run out of components from China, and shut down its factories in South Korea, the Financial Times reports.

—Lucas Niewenhuis