Health and Science

Coronavirus outbreak in Chinese prisons, South Korea cases exceed 200

Key Points
  • South Korea has confirmed an additional 48 cases of the coronavirus, bringing the total number of infections nationwide to 204.
  • State reports of 512 coronavirus cases on Friday traced back to four prisons in mainland China, including two in Hubei, the center of the disease's outbreak.
  • China said another 118 people have died, with most of them in Hubei province. That brings the total number of deaths in the mainland to 2,236 people, the National Health Commission said.
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All times below are in Beijing time.

8:30 pm: It is possible coronavirus exists in all Iranian cities, Health Ministry says

Iran's Health Ministry on Friday reportedly confirmed the coronavirus had spread to several cities nationwide, before adding the flu-like virus might exist in all of them.

"Based on existing reports, the spread of the coronavirus started in Qom and with attention to people's travels has now reached several cities in the country, including Tehran, Babol, Arak, Isfahan, Rasht and other cities. And it is possible that it exists in all cities in Iran," Health Ministry official Minou Mohrez said Friday, Reuters reported, citing the country's official IRNA news agency.

It comes after the Islamic Republic confirmed 13 new cases on Friday, two of whom have died. (See 7 p.m. update). — Meredith

7:45 pm: Israel confirms passenger has tested positive upon return from coronavirus-hit ship in Japan

Israel's Ministry of Health on Friday confirmed a passenger returning from a coronavirus-hit cruise ship in Japan has tested positive for COVID-19.

The patient is in quarantine and under supervision, the Health Ministry said in a statement, adding the infection did not take place in Israel.

The remaining passengers returning to Israel were reported to have tested negative for the coronavirus. — Meredith

7 pm: Iran confirms 13 further cases of coronavirus, two deaths

Iran has confirmed two deaths among 13 new cases of the coronavirus, according to a statement from Health Ministry spokesperson Kinaush Jahanpur.

Seven people found to have contracted the flu-like virus were diagnosed in Qom, four people in Tehran and two in Gilan, Jahanpur said Friday.

The total number of confirmed cases in Iran has now climbed to 18, with four deaths. — Meredith

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6:30 pm: Chinese city says discharged virus patient tested positive after 10 days

A coronavirus patient who was discharged less than two weeks ago has tested positive for the virus, Chengdu Public Health and Medical Center said Friday in an online statement.

The post said the patient was discharged on Feb. 10 after meeting requirements from China's virus diagnosis protocol, and went home for a 14-day quarantine.

The hospital said it received the patient on Wednesday for further treatment.

Chengdu is the capital city of Sichuan province in southwestern China and located more than 1,100 kilometers (683 miles) away from Wuhan. — Lilian Wu

5:35 pm: Confirmed cases in Hubei province cannot be removed, must now be added back, official says

Following several days of back-and-forth over how Hubei defines virus cases, an official for the province's health commission said confirmed infections cannot be removed from the province's official count, state news agency Xinhua reported Friday, citing a news conference.

Cases that have been removed must all be added back, the official said, according to the report.

The official cited a stringent demand from the province's party secretary, Ying Yong, a former Shanghai mayor who assumed the position last week.

On Thursday, the Hubei Provincial Health Committee reported there were 349 new cases as of Feb. 19 — down from 1,693 newly confirmed cases the day before. The commission said that 349 was the final tally after deducting 279 cases from 10 Hubei cities. — Cheng

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4:45 pm: North Korea to cancel Pyongyang Marathon, tour company says

North Korea has canceled its Pyongyang Marathon scheduled for April due to the coronavirus outbreak, a Western tour company said Friday.

Young Pioneer Tours (YPT) said in an online statement that it had received confirmation from its travel partners in North Korea that the race was to be scrapped because the country's borders remain closed.

YPT is an abbreviation of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the country's official name.

The World Health Organization has previously said it had no indications of the coronavirus having spread to North Korea. — Meredith

4:25 pm: South Korea confirms 48 further cases of coronavirus, total exceeds 200

South Korea has confirmed an additional 48 cases of the coronavirus, bringing the total number of infections nationwide to 204.

The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday that most of the new cases came from the city of Daegu, with many linked to Sincheon Daegu Church.

An earlier briefing reported a further 52 people had contracted the deadly flu-like virus in South Korea. (See 9:11 a.m. update).

It means the country has confirmed an additional 100 cases of the coronavirus in just one day. — Meredith

People are wearing masks at Myeongdong on February 20, 2020 in Seoul, South Korea.
Jong-Hyun Kim |Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

4:10 pm: Japanese automakers postpone restart of some China plants over coronavirus fears

Nissan and Honda have reportedly delayed the restart of some plants in China, in compliance with local directives, amid intensifying concern about the coronavirus outbreak.

It is thought the move might add to supply disruptions that could impact global car production.

Nissan said Friday that it would keep plants in Xianyang, Hubei province, and Zhengzhou, Henan province, closed after Feb. 24., Reuters reported, citing an email from the automaker. Nissan did not give a new date for reopening.

Meanwhile, Honda said operations in Wuhan, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, would remain suspended until March 11. — Meredith

2:50 pm: Hundreds of new virus cases stem from Chinese prisons

State reports of 512 coronavirus cases on Friday traced back to four prisons in mainland China, including two in Hubei, the center of the disease's outbreak.

In Hubei, the Wuhan women's prison has 230 cases, and the Shayang Hanjin prison has 41, according to a report from the province's state-run newspaper on Friday. Earlier in the morning, the province's health commission upwardly revised the number of confirmed cases to account for a written report from the prison department that disclosed 271 cases in its system, 51 of which were previously included in regional figures.

In the north, Shandong province's Rencheng prison has 207 confirmed cases of the virus, according to a report Friday from state news agency Xinhua.

Twenty-seven of 28 new confirmed cases in the east coast province of Zhejiang for Thursday came from Shilifeng prison, adding to 7 cases the prison previously reported, according to a provincial government report. — Cheng

Correction: This post has been updated to reflect that 27 of 28 new confirmed cases in the east coast province of Zhejiang for Thursday came from Shilifeng prison.

2:20 pm: Retail sales of passenger vehicles in China plunge

Sales of China's passenger vehicles tumbled 92% in the first 16 days of February, as compared with the same period last year, data from the China Passenger Car Association showed, according to Reuters.

"Very few dealerships opened in the first weeks of February and they have had very little customer traffic," it said, according to Reuters. — Weizhen Tan

12:55 pm: Singapore still has financial buffer to help economy if needed, minister says

Singapore still has some financial buffer if more measures are needed to tide the economy through the current coronavirus outbreak, said Indranee Rajah, the country's second minister for finance and education.

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"What we've done is to prepare on the basis that it may go on for some months, and to make sure that we can stabilize and support businesses as well as our households during that period," Rajah, who's also a minister in the prime minister's office, told CNBC on Friday.

"And we do still have some buffer in case any additional measures are needed," she said.

The Singapore government has set aside 5.6 billion Singapore dollars ($4.02 billion) in its latest budget to help businesses, workers and households weather the economic hit from the spread of the new coronavirus called COVID-19. — Lee

12:05 pm: China says foreign companies speeding up return to work

Overall, for foreign-invested enterprises in Shanghai, Shandong, Hunan and other areas, the rate of resumption of work has topped 80%, a representative for China's Ministry of Commerce said Friday at a news conference, according to a CNBC translation of his Mandarin remarks.

For Guangdong, Jiangsu and other major foreign trade provinces, the resumption of work has been rapidly increasing, the ministry said, noting that key businesses in foreign trade in provinces such as Zhejiang and Shandong have a resumption of work rate of around 70%.

Guangdong was the top source of China's exports by far in 2019, followed in order by Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Shanghai and Shandong, according to official data accessed through Wind Information.

By the end of the month, many places will have essentially have resumed work and production, the ministry said, without stating if it was referring just to foreign-invested enterprises. — Cheng

11:15 am: China's commerce ministry expects growth rate of Jan/Feb trade data to fall sharply

China's January/February growth rate of imports and exports are expected to fall sharply.

"It's expected that the growth rate of imports and exports in January and February will fall sharply," due to blockages in logistics, delays in the resumption of work and other factors such as the Lunar New Year, Li Xinggan, director of the department of foreign trade at the Ministry of Commerce, said Friday at a press conference, according to a CNBC translation of his Chinese remarks.

Analysts have said the economic fallout from the outbreak on China's economy would be notable for at least one quarter, or more, if the spread of the disease is not meaningfully contained by March. Li added that preparation for the Canton Fair, a key event in Guangdong province for China's international trade, is still progressing as scheduled. The fair is set to begin in mid-April.

China often groups January and February data together to account for Lunar New Year volatility. The country's customs office abruptly announced earlier this month shortly before the scheduled release of trade data for January that it would be combined with February's data. — Cheng

10:07 am: China virus response group calls for greater protection of medical staff

A national-level meeting of China's leading virus response group on Thursday called for greater protection of medical staff.

A press release from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs noted that "unfortunate infections" in health care workers mostly occurred before Feb. 1 and in Hubei province, the epicenter of the coronavirus. "All-out efforts must be made to treat the infected medical workers and effective steps taken to forestall further cases in their ranks," the English-language release said. — Cheng

9:20 am: China reports 118 additional deaths

China said another 118 people have died, with most of them in Hubei province. That brings the total number of deaths in the mainland to 2,236 people, the National Health Commission said.

There were 889 new confirmed cases as of Feb. 20, bringing the total confirmed cases to 75,465, the commission said. More than 2,000 people were also cured and discharged on the same day. — Roy Choudhury

9:13 am: China consumers may be ready to spend when outbreak subsides

One strategist told CNBC that bored Chinese consumers will be ready to splash some cash once they can get out of their homes after the outbreak subsides.

"I'm quite optimistic that with most of the consumer part of the economy, people who've been cooped up in their apartments for the last several weeks are going to be ready to spend when they get out," said
Andy Rothman, investment strategist at Matthews Asia.

Many Chinese cities have turned into ghost towns as quarantines kick in and people stay away from crowds to reduce the risk of infection. "If there's demand for goods — which there certainly seems to be — factories will be running full-time to try and up for lost time," he said. – Huileng Tan

Thousands of couples attend a mass wedding held by the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, aka Unification Church despite the spread of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus also known as Wuhan Coronavirus on February 7, 2020 in Gapyeong-gun, South Korea.
Woohae Cho | Getty Images

9:11 am: South Korea reports 52 new cases, total exceeds 150

The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said another 52 people were infected, bringing the total cases in the country to 156. Most of the new cases came from the city of Daegu, and 33 of them were linked to a church. Seoul also reported three additional cases. South Korea now has one of the highest number of cases outside mainland China. (see update 7:05 am) — Roy Choudhury

8:22 am: 2 Australian passengers from quarantined cruise ship test positive

Two out of 164 Australians who were flown back from the Diamond Princess cruise ship — that had been quarantined in Japan since early February — have tested positive, said Australia's chief medical officer, Professor Brendan Murphy.

The passengers were flown from Japan to a quarantine facility in Australia. None of them displayed any symptoms and did not test positive for the virus in Japan. After they were screened again in Australia, six of them began to display minor respiratory symptoms and fever, and two were subsequently confirmed. — Roy Choudhury

7:23 am: Hubei reports 115 new deaths, most of them in Wuhan

China's Hubei province said there were 115 additional deaths as of Feb. 20, which brought the total number of fatalities in the region to 2,144.

The Hubei Provincial Health Committee reported there were 411 new cases on Feb. 20, bringing the cumulative number of infections to 62,422. For the second day in a row, the number of confirmed new cases dropped significantly lower than 1,000 cases.

It is unclear if the steep decline is linked to a change in diagnosis protocol. What was previously termed "clinically diagnosed," or those confirmed through CT scans and symptoms, will now fall under the "suspected" category. They will no longer be counted as "confirmed" cases like they were in the previous diagnosis protocol.

The virus, first detected in Hubei capital Wuhan, has killed more than 2,000 people so far — about 10 people outside the mainland have died. — Roy Choudhury

Correction: This post has been updated to reflect that the number of new cases fell significantly below 1,000 in the last two days. It was originally misstated due to an editing error.

7:20 am: Amazon tells sellers it will take down listings for products that claim to kill coronavirus

Amazon is removing listings from its online marketplace that claim to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. The company notified third-party merchants this week that it was taking down listings claiming to be a treatment, cure or remedy for the coronavirus, according to an email obtained by CNBC.

Last week, CNBC reported that Amazon was one of several tech giants that met with the World Health Organization at Facebook's Menlo Park, Calif. offices to discuss how to stop misinformation about the coronavirus on their platforms. Bad actors have attempted to make money off of fears around the coronavirus. On Amazon, sellers have offered books that stoke fears about the virus, while vitamin C products have increasingly surfaced because of false reports it can cure the coronavirus. — Palmer

7:05 am: South Korea's confirmed cases balloon, with 22 additional ones reported

The total number of confirmed cases in South Korea is now 104 after 22 new patients were confirmed to have caught the infection, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. That makes South Korea one of the worst affected places outside mainland China, where more than 70,000 people have been infected sp far. Most of the new cases in South Korea were identified in the city of Daegu and the surrounding Gyeongbuk province. One person is also said to have died from the illness. — Roy Choudhury

All times below are in Eastern time.

4:21 pm: Facebook pulls out of Game Developers Conference

Facebook is pulling out of next month's Game Developers Conference in San Francisco due to ongoing concerns with the coronavirus outbreak. "GDC is always a highlight of our gaming event lineup, however the health of our employees and the wider games community comes before anything else," the company said in a blog post. "Due to the evolving health concerns surrounding COVID-19, Facebook's AR/VR and Gaming teams will not be attending GDC this year."

Facebook typically uses the Game Developers Conference each year to make announcements for its Oculus virtual reality division and its other endeavors in gaming. A company spokesman said Facebook will still make its planned announcements, but it will do so in a digital format. — Rodriguez

3:52 pm: S&P Global says Chinese banks could see bad loans double

Chinese banks may face increasing pressure from a rise in bad loans, according to a new report from S&P Global Ratings. The coronavirus epidemic could nearly double the number of questionable loans on the books of Chinese banks. The Chinese government has much of the country under lockdown to try to contain the outbreak, pressuring the finances of companies and consumers alike. Most of that economic impact will likely be felt in the first quarter of this year, the report said, with a recovery firmly in place by the third quarter.

Based on that slowdown, S&P Global estimates that the share of questionable loans could rise from 6.5% to 7.5% of all loans before the outbreak to a peak of about 10.5% to 11.5% in the aftermath of the epidemic. The rise in bad loans comes as Chinese bank regulators have been working to tighten accounting standards. S&P Global analysts said the coronavirus crisis will likely slow those reforms, as authorities focus instead on financial and social stability. — Schoen

Read CNBC's coverage from the U.S. overnight: Global air travel set for first decline since 2009, FBI stocks up on hand sanitizer and masks

— CNBC's Yen Nee Lee, Huileng Tan, Annie Palmer, Salvador Rodriguez and John Schoen contributed to this report.