Health and Science

Iran says two test positive for coronavirus, global death toll tops 2,000

Key Points
  • China's National Health Commission said there was a total of 74,185 confirmed cases as of Feb. 18, and 2,004 people have died so far.
  • South Korea confirmed 15 additional cases, bringing the total number of affected patients to 46.
  • A second person, a 70-year-old man, has died in Hong Kong from the infection, a spokeswoman at the Princess Margaret Hospital told CNBC.
VIDEO2:1802:18
Coronavirus update: More than 2,000 have died

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All times below are in Beijing time.

7:30 pm: Iran says two people have tested positive for coronavirus

Iranian authorities reported two suspected cases of the coronavirus on Wednesday, according to the country's semi-official ISNA news agency.

A health ministry spokesperson said both cases were in the city of Qom ad the patients had been put into isolation.

"The next stages of testing are underway and the final results of these tests will be released to the public once they have been determined," Kiyanoush Jahanpour, a spokesperson at Iran's health ministry, said in a statement, ISNA reported.

Iran has not previously confirmed any cases of the coronavirus. — Meredith.

6:40 pm: Japan says 79 more people have tested positive for coronavirus on Diamond Princess cruise ship

Japan has reported a further 79 people aboard the Diamond Princess cruise liner have tested positive for coronavirus, taking the total number of on-board infections to 621.

Japan's public broadcaster, NHK, citing the health ministry, said Wednesday that 68 of the 79 people found to have contracted COVID-19 had no symptoms.

Earlier in the day, passengers and crew members on board the quarantined cruise ship, who were not taking government repatriation flights, started the process of disembarking. (See 12:08 p.m. update).

It is thought this process will happen over several consecutive days, as people need certificates indicating they tested negative for the virus before they can leave. — Meredith.

6:25 pm: Adidas says business activity in China has tanked roughly 85% due to coronavirus

German sportswear firm Adidas warned business activity in China has fallen dramatically in recent weeks, citing a material negative impact from the coronavirus outbreak.

It comes at a time when many in the sporting goods industry are deeply concerned about the potential economic impact of China's fast-spreading virus.

Since Lunar New Year on Jan. 25, the company said Wednesday that a "pronounced traffic reduction within the remaining store fleet" had seen business activity tumble roughly 85% when compared to the same period a year earlier.

Shares of Adidas were up over 2% Wednesday morning. — Meredith.

This photo taken on February 18, 2020 shows members of a police sanitation team spraying disinfectant on a bridge as a preventive measure agaist the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus in Bozhou, in China's eastern Anhui province.
STR | AFP | Getty Images

6 pm: China warns local governments over misuse of special funds to fight coronavirus

China's finance ministry has reportedly warned that local governments will face punishment if they are found to have misused special funds meant to pay for the fight to contain the coronavirus.

The ministry said Wednesday that irregularities including the embezzlement or misallocation of funds allocated by the central government would be investigated, Reuters reported.

On Wednesday, China's National Health Commission reported an additional 1,749 cases of the coronavirus nationwide, with 136 deaths. As of Feb. 18., the commission said there had been a total of 74,185 confirmed cases and 2,004 cumulative deaths. (See 8:09 a.m. update). — Meredith.

5:05 pm: Macao casinos set to re-open after 15-day suspension — but with strict rules for staff and guests

Casinos in the world's most lucrative gambling destination will re-open on Thursday, after being closed for more than two weeks in an effort to contain the coronavirus outbreak.

It comes after a 15-day suspension for gaming operations at 41 casinos in Macao.

The gaming regulator for the special administrative region has reportedly imposed strict rules for staff and guests, with each casino ordered to carry out temperature checks, mask protection and health declarations. — Meredith.

A worker at a factory in Nanjing sorting face masks being produced to satisfy increased demand during China's COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak, in China's Jiangsu province.
Stringer | AFP | Getty Images

4:30 pm: China says work resumption rate tops 50% for some industrial companies in key economic regions

From a regional perspective, the resumption of work rate has topped 50% for industrial enterprises greater than a certain scale in Guangdong, Jiangsu, Shanghai and other major economic regions, according to Tang Shemin, second inspector of the operations bureau of the National Development and Reform Commission.

That's according to a CNBC translation of his Mandarin-language remarks at a press conference in Beijing on Wednesday. — Cheng.

3:27 pm: China's Q1 growth could be as low as 3.5%, says Morgan Stanley

China's economic growth in the first quarter could fall to as low as 3.5% if the outbreak is not contained fast enough for manufacturing production to return to normal levels, Morgan Stanley analysts said in a note. While factories have started to come online, checks by Morgan Stanley analysts found that production had only reached 30% to 50% of normal levels as of last week.

The analysts said they expect production in China to reach 60% to 80% of the usual levels by the end of this month, and back to normal by middle to late March. But they warned of uncertainties surrounding the virus outbreak. — Lee

2:15 pm: More than 700 cruise ship guests in Cambodia test negative

Cambodia's health ministry has confirmed that 781 guests on board MS Westerdam have all tested negative, cruise ship operator Holland America Line said. The results would provide those people the required clearance to return home to their respective countries, according to the company.

Guests who had already departed Cambodia since disembarking will be contacted by their respective local health departments and provided further information, Holland America Line said. The announcement comes after an American passenger from the cruise ship tested positive for the virus when she arrived in Kuala Lumpur, prompting Malaysia to bar the entry of remaining passengers from the Westerdam.

Testing for 747 crew members on board is expected to be completed in a few days, the cruise operator said. The Westerdam — which carried 1,455 guests and 802 crew — departed Hong Kong on Feb. 1 and arrived in Cambodia last Thursday after being turned away by several countries including Japan, the Philippines, and Thailand. — Taylor, Roy Choudhury and Lee

1:41 pm: Lunar New Year rail trips in China nearly halve

China's railway operator said 210 million trips were taken in the 40 days of the Lunar New Year travel period from Jan. 10 to Feb. 18, state news agency Xinhua reported. That number marked a 48% decline from last year.

During roughly the first two weeks of the travel period, through Jan. 24 (Lunar New Year eve), 168 million trips were taken, an increase of 17.2% from the corresponding holiday travel season last year, the report said. For the remainder of the time period, rail trips fell 83.9%, the article said. The report noted the number of average daily trips during the latter period fell to 1.7 million from 11.2 million. — Cheng

1:17 pm: Malaysia's health minister says virus spread in the country is 'no cause for panic'

Malaysia has so far managed to contain the spread of the new coronavirus, with limited transmission locally, Dzulkefly Ahmad, the country's health minister, told CNBC on Wednesday.

Malaysia has reported 22 cases of COVID-19 as of Tuesday – the third-highest number in Southeast Asia behind Singapore and Thailand, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Of those cases, 13 have recovered and there haven't been any reported deaths so far, the data showed.

"I think it's very contained right now and there's ... no cause for panic at all, but we cannot be complacent about this and we'll continue to be on serious alert," said the minister. — Lee

1:05 pm: One case confirmed in California's Napa County, second patient under investigation

A single case of the coronavirus had been confirmed in Napa County. The patient was in isolation at the Queen of the Valley Medical Center, while a second patient with symptoms was under investigation.

Both patients had previously been under quarantine aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Yokohama, Japan, before being flown into the Travis Air Force Base in Solano County, and subsequently arriving in Napa. They are both under federal quarantine in the U.S. and neither are Napa residents.

The first patient tested positive while in Japan but did not experience any symptoms. The second patient tested negative in Japan but displayed symptoms. — Roy Choudhury

12:46 pm: China's after-school activities are moving online, industry players under pressure to deliver

As local governments in China delay the re-opening of schools to limit the spread of the new virus, parents and institutions are turning to online education, putting pressure on industry players to deliver.

For one after-school operator in Beijing, it means moving all classes online, even though the courses come at a discount to offline sessions. But "it's just a choice between zero and something," department headmaster Lü Fei, said, according to a CNBC translation of his Mandarin-language remarks.

Investors are also paying attention. Shares of after-school operator New Oriental's Hong Kong-listed online education subsidiary Koolearn have surged about 75% for the year so far through midday Wednesday. Ye and Cheng

12:08 pm: Passengers to begin disembarkation from quarantined cruise ship in Japan

Passengers and crew members on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship who are not taking government repatriation flights will begin the process of disembarking, ship operator Princess Cruises said, citing the Japanese health ministry.

The disembarkation will happen over several consecutive days, the operator said, as people need certificates indicating they tested negative for the virus before they can leave. It said the testing process alone can take two to three days to complete.

Kyodo News reported that the first batch of people to disembark would primarily include around 500 elderly passengers who have tested negative. The ship had been quarantined since early February after a previous guest tested positive six days after disembarking. Japan said there were a total of 542 cases confirmed aboard thus far. — Roy Choudhury

11:16 am: Xi holds calls with leaders of the UK and France

Chinese President Xi Jinping held phone calls with leaders of the U.K. and France on Tuesday to express gratitude for their sympathies and support in China's fight against the virus.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said "he loves China," according to the English-language text of Chinese state-owned agency Xinhua. The U.K. government only said on its website that the prime minister "offered his sympathies" and resolved to strengthen the relationship between the two countries.

Separately, Xi thanked French President Emmanuel Macron for calling again to support China at this time, according to Xinhua. The article added that Macron expressed "appreciation for China's timely and effective measures and its high degree of openness and transparency." The English-language version of the French government's website did not have a statement as of Wednesday morning Beijing time.

The two calls, in addition to Xi's congratulatory message to Zoran Milanovic on assuming the presidency of Croatia (which also holds the presidency of the EU Council through June), made the front page of China's Communist Party newspaper People's Daily on Wednesday. — Cheng

10:51 am: Hong Kong reports second death

A second person, a 70-year-old man, has died in Hong Kong from the infection, a spokeswoman at the Princess Margaret Hospital told CNBC. When asked for more information about the patient, the spokeswoman said further details would be shared at an afternoon press conference. This would mark the sixth fatality outside the Chinese mainland, where the death toll has surpassed 2,000. — Roy Choudhury

10:13 am: China plans measures to cut costs for companies

The State Council decided on a series of measures to cut costs for businesses, in the wake of the virus disruptions to economic activity. A Tuesday meeting, led by Premier Li Keqiang, announced that all medium, small and micro-sized businesses will not need to make contributions to employees' old-age pension, unemployment and workplace safety insurance plans from February to June, according to a release from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Larger companies will only need to pay half from February to April, the release said.

"In deciding on these policies, full consideration has been given to the sustainability of the social security fund, the balance of which is sufficient to support the full and timely payments of old-age pensions and other social security benefits nationwide," the English-language text said.

The State Council also said companies can defer payments to a housing fund, and emphasized employment as the priority, according to the release. In addition, the statement said Chinese leaders had made plans for boosting agricultural production with the onset of spring, including enhancement of pest prevention. — Cheng

9:44 am: South Korea reports 15 new cases

South Korea's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that 15 new patients were confirmed to have been infected. That brings the total number of cases in the country to 46. Most of the new cases were identified in the city of Daegu and the Gyengbuk province, and 11 of them were tied to an earlier patient, according to the KCDC's statement. — Roy Choudhury

9:02 am: Confirmed cases in Singapore surpass 80

A total of 81 people have been confirmed to be infected as of Tuesday noon, Singapore's health ministry said adding that among them, 29 have been discharged. Outside mainland China, the city-state has one of the highest number of cases, with a few of them occurring through human-to-human transmission. Singapore has announced plans to set aside $4 billion to help businesses and households weather the outbreak. — Roy Choudhury

8:37 am: Indian start-up Oyo fights to keep hotels in China open

Oyo CEO Ritesh Agarwal told CNBC's "Squawk Alley" that his company is trying to keep as many of its hotels in China open as possible, at reduced prices in provinces most affected by the virus to support doctors and people stranded by travel restrictions. Like its peers in the hospitality industry, the Indian budget hotel chain start-up has seen a drop in occupancy. China is one of its biggest markets and Oyo works with about 9,000 hotels there. — Mody

8:09 am: China says total fatalities top 2,000

China's National Health Commission said there were 1,749 confirmed new cases on the mainland and 136 additional deaths as of Feb. 18. Most of them occurred in the Hubei province, the epicenter of the outbreak. (see 7:03 a.m. update). Health authorities reported a total of 74,185 confirmed cases and 2,004 cumulative deaths so far. — Roy Choudhury

7:03 am: Hubei province reports an additional 132 deaths

Hubei province in China reported an additional 132 deaths and 1,693 newly confirmed cases related to the pneumonia-like coronavirus as of the end of Tuesday. Most of the fatalities occurred in the city of Wuhan, where the disease was first detected in late December.

That brings the total death toll in China to at least 2,000. China's National Health Commission is due to report nation-wide numbers later today.

According to the Hubei Provincial Health Committee, 1,921 people have died in the region from the infection and there have been a total of 61,682 confirmed cases so far. Around 9,128 people have also been discharged from hospitals. — Roy Choudhury

A man (C) wearing a facemask as a preventative measure following a coronavirus outbreak which began in the Chinese city of Wuhan, offers money as he reacts after being refused purchase of a box of face masks, after he claimed to have lost his sales registration ticket while queueing up to buy them, in Hong Kong on February 5, 2020.
Anthony Wallace | AFP | Getty Images

All times below are in Eastern time.

5:48 pm: CDC places travel restrictions on Princess Cruise passengers

The CDC said it is prohibiting any passengers or crew from the Princess Cruise ship that was quarantined off the coast of Japan from returning to the U.S. for at least 14 days. There are still more than 100 of the original 3,700 people still aboard the Diamond Princess ship or in hospitals in Japan.

They will need to wait 14 days after disembarking from the ship — without showing symptoms or testing positive for COVID-19 — before they will be allowed to fly back to the U.S., the CDC said.

"While the quarantine potentially conferred a significant public health benefit in slowing transmission, CDC's assessment is that it may not have been sufficient to prevent transmission among individuals on the ship," the agency said. "CDC believes the rate of new infections on board, especially among those without symptoms, represents an ongoing risk." — Kopecki

5:26 pm: Too early to tell whether the outbreak is slowing in China

China may be reporting fewer new cases of coronavirus and fewer COVID-19 deaths, but it does not mean the country's outbreak is slowing, immunologist Anthony Fauci told CNBC on Tuesday.

"I think we need to give it a few more days to determine if that's real or if that's the variability that you generally see," Fauci, a member of President Donald Trump's coronavirus task force, said on "Closing Bell." Fauci, who is the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, was referencing reports Tuesday that the number of new daily cases in China fell below 2,000 for the first time since Jan. 30.

Chinese officials also reported 98 deaths, the first time the daily toll was below 100 since Feb. 11. — Stankiewicz

Read CNBC's coverage from the U.S. overnight: Stocks fall after Apple's virus warning, analyst says 'worst is yet to come' for markets

— CNBC's Evelyn Cheng, Yen Nee Lee, Wendy Ye, Chloe Taylor, Seema Mody, Dawn Kopecki and Kevin Stankiewicz contributed to this report.