Health and Science

Iran cancels Friday prayers in major cities as death toll rises

Key Points
  • South Korea's total confirmed cases stands at 5,328 as the death toll climbed to 32, according to KCDC data.
  • In China, a total of 80,270 people have been infected, with 49,856 people discharged and 2,981 dead, according to government figures.
  • New Zealand's health ministry confirmed a woman in her 30s who recently returned to Auckland from northern Italy has the coronavirus — the country's second case.
  • Poland has confirmed its first case of the coronavirus disease, according to the country's Health Minister Lukasz Szumowski.
  • Global cases: At least 93,000, according to the latest figures from the World Health Organization
  • Global deaths: At least 3,100, according to the latest figures from the WHO

The coverage on this live blog has ended — but for up-to-the-minute coverage on the coronavirus, visit the live blog from CNBC's U.S. team.

All times below are in Beijing time.

9:07 pm: Italy closes all schools and universities as coronavirus death toll rivals Iran's

Italy's government announced it will temporarily close the nation's schools and universities, according to local media, as the authorities struggle to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

The closure will come into effect from Thursday and will last until mid-March. — Ellyatt

8:42 pm: Chinese scientists identify two strains of the coronavirus

Researchers in China have found two different strains of the new coronavirus circulating in Asia. 

In a preliminary study published Tuesday, scientists at Peking University's School of Life Sciences and the Institut Pasteur of Shanghai found that a more aggressive type of the new coronavirus had accounted for roughly 70% of analyzed strains, while 30% had been linked to a less aggressive type. 

The more aggressive type of virus was found to be prevalent in the early stages of the outbreak in Wuhan — the Chinese city where COVID-19 was first detected late last year. But, the frequency of this type of virus has since decreased from early January, the scientists said. —Meredith

8:03 pm: Iran cancels Friday prayers in major cities as death toll rises

Friday prayers in Iran have been canceled across all provincial capitals amid the country's growing coronavirus outbreak, state television said, according to an AP report.

The suspension of religious services on Friday, Islam's main day of worship, comes amid a rise in the death toll from the coronavirus to 92 people, and concerns over the possible spread of the virus among government ministers. — Ellyatt

An Iranian woman wearing a mask walks past a mural displaying her national flag in Tehran on March 4, 2020.
ATTA KENARE

7:32 pm: Iran has 92 coronavirus deaths, 2,922 infections, health ministry says

Iran has published its latest coronavirus data, stating that 92 people have died in Iran from the new coronavirus and 2,922 have been infected, Health Ministry spokesman Kianush Jahanpur announced on state TV Wednesday, Reuters reported.

7:14 pm: Oil producing giant OPEC releases 'dos and don'ts' for meetings this week

The 14-member oil-producing group OPEC has produced a guide of 'dos and don'ts' to prevent the spread of coronavirus at its high-profile meetings this week to discuss production policy.

The guide advises against shaking hands, hugging or kissing, and to avoid close contact with anyone that has a cough.

The guide is aimed at those attending meetings of OPEC and and its non-OPEC allies led by Russia, known collectively as OPEC+. The alliance is meeting in Vienna, Austria on March 5-6. — Ellyatt

6:56 pm: Italy's coronavirus outbreak now looks worse than Iran's

Italy is now the worst-affected country from the coronavirus outside Asia, overtaking Iran in terms of the number of deaths and infections from the virus. 

The death toll in Italy jumped to 79 on Tuesday, up from an official total of 52 on Monday. As of Wednesday morning, there are 2,502 cases of the virus in Italy, according to Italian media reports that are updated ahead of the daily official count, published by Italy's Civil Protection Agency every evening. 

Italy's coronavirus numbers have now surpassed Iran's official infection count. The Islamic Republic has 2,336 cases of the virus and has recorded 77 deaths, although there is speculation over the accuracy of Iran's tally of the epidemic— Ellyatt

6:26 pm: China's passenger car sales fall 80% in February as demand drops

Passenger car retail sales in China, the world's biggest auto market, fell 80% in February because of the coronavirus epidemic, one of the country's industry associations said on Wednesday, Reuters reported.

The China Passenger Car Association (CPCA) said in a statement that China's overall passenger car sales dropped 80%, without giving a full sales figure for the month.

"Dealers returned to work gradually in the first three weeks of February and their showroom traffic is very low," CPCA said, adding it expects February's sales drop will be the steepest of this year. — Ellyatt

A Chinese woman wears a protective mask and sunglasses as she waits for a bus on a nearly empty road during rush hour in the central business district on February 13, 2020, in Beijing.
Kevin Frayer

5:51 pm: France to cap antibacterial gel price, finance minister says

France will regulate the price of antibacterial gels after prices were reported to have increased heavily since the coronavirus outbreak began, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said on Wednesday.

A decree regulating the price would be published during the day, Le Maire told French BFM Business radio, Reuters reported. — Ellyatt

5:05 pm: German coronavirus cases continue to rise

The total number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany has risen to 240, from 196 cases on Tuesday according to the RKI health institute. North Rhine-Westphalia is the worst affected state with 111 cases; the capital Berlin has six cases. — Ellyatt

4:20 pm: Toyota's car sales in China dive 70%

Japanese automaker Toyota said its car sales in China fell by 70% in February due to the coronavirus outbreak, reported Reuters. 

China is the world's largest auto market. The China Passenger Car Association said overall passenger car sales in China declined by 89% in the first 23 days of February, according to Reuters. — Lee

3:45 pm: Poland reports first case 

Poland has confirmed its first case of the coronavirus disease, according to the country's Health Minister Lukasz Szumowski.

The man is in hospital in Zielona Gora, western Poland, and he's in a good condition, the minister said. — Lee

3:25 pm: Etihad Airways denies asking cabin crew to take paid leave 

United Arab Emirates' Etihad Airways denied that it sent an email asking cabin crew to take paid leave between Apr. 6 and May 5.

Reuters reported that the airline made such a request in an internal email that the news agency saw. The email didn't give a reason for the request, according to Reuters. — Lee

3:05 pm: Plunge in China's services activity

China's services sector had its worst month on record in February, according to a survey. 

The Caixin/Markit services purchasing managers' index (PMI) plunged to 26.5 last month from January's 51.8. A level above 50 indicates expansion, while below represents contraction. The February reading was the first time the indicator had dropped below 50 since the survey began almost 15 years ago in late 2005. — Lee

1:40 pm: Central banks have 'far less ammunition' to save the global economy

Central banks around the world, including the U.S. Federal Reserve, have lowered interest rates to support their respective economies amid a rapidly spreading coronavirus — and more are expected to follow suit.

But investors and economists said there's not much monetary policy can do to save the global economy, especially when some major central banks — such as the European Central Bank and Bank of Japan — have already cut interest rates into the negative territory.

"The fact is, we're coming into this crisis with far less ammunition globally. It's not just Europe or Japan, even in China they have much less ammunition than the last time they had to launch a stimulus package," Alex Wolf, J.P. Morgan Private Bank's head of investment strategy in Asia, told CNBC's "Squawk Box Asia." — Lee

12:45 pm: China's giants from Alibaba to Tencent ramp up health tech efforts

China's tech giants are accelerating their efforts in the field of health-care technology using cloud computing and artificial intelligence, as the country looks to contain the fast-spreading new coronavirus. 

Tech firms have expanded their surveillance capabilities to help the government track where people who have potentially been in contact with the virus are located.

And now, the Chinese tech giants are also boosting their push into health care with a focus on providing tools to help the medical industry. — Kharpal

12:08 pm: Facebook is giving free ads to the WHO and taking down 'conspiracy theories'

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said on Wednesday that the social network will give the World Health Organization free advertising for its coronavirus response and take down false claims about the virus.

Users who search for coronavirus on Facebook, will see a pop-up that directs them to the WHO or local health authority for the latest information on the outbreak. Those in a country where the WHO has reported person-to-person transmission, will see see that information in their News Feed.

In a Facebook post, Zuckerberg said that the WHO will get free ads and the social network will give "millions more in ad credits" to other organizations too.

The Facebook founder also said the company will remove "false claims and conspiracy theories that have been flagged by leading global health organizations."

"We're also blocking people from running ads that try to exploit the situation — for example, claiming that their product can cure the disease," he added. — Kharpal

11:43 am: 2 out of China's 119 new cases traveled from Iran, Italy

Out of the four new confirmed virus cases reported for Tuesday in mainland China outside of Hubei province, three came from Beijing city and one from Ningxia.

One of the cases in Beijing was a traveler from Iran, and another from Italy, the government said. The case in Ningxia was a suspected case that became a confirmed case, authorities said. — Cheng

10:43 am: NBC News Exit Poll finds US primary voters concerned about coronavirus support Biden

Just over half of Democratic primary voters in California, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia said the coronavirus outbreak was an important factor in their vote, according to NBC News Exit Poll. Of those respondents, nearly half (47%) said they preferred former Vice President Joe Biden, followed by 29% who support Bernie Sanders. — Wang

10:18 am: NBA postpones start of Basketball Africa League

The National Basketball League has postponed the start of the Basketball Africa League's inaugural season due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus outbreak. Officials said the decision comes on the recommendation of the Senegalese government. BAL was scheduled to tipoff on March 13 in Dakar, Senegal. — Young

9:54 am: Amazon employee based in Seattle tests positive

Amazon said an employee who works in one of its Seattle, Washington offices tested positive for the coronavirus.

″We're supporting the affected employee who is in quarantine," the company told CNBC. "The employee is based out of Amazon's Brazil office building in Seattle, WA."

It's not immediately clear if the person had been in the office in recent days or had traveled internationally recently. — Haselton, Reed

9:45 am: China confirms 119 more cases and additional 38 deaths

China's National Health Commission confirmed an additional 119 cases and 38 deaths as of the end of Tuesday.

So far, a total of 80,270 people have been infected, with 49,856 people discharged and 2,981 dead in China, according to government figures. — Wang

9:16 am: South Korea confirms 516 new cases, 4 additional deaths

New cases in South Korea climbed by 516 as of Wednesday morning, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency also confirmed four additional deaths.

Those latest figures bring South Korea's total confirmed cases to 5,328 as the death toll climbed to 32, according to KCDC data.

So far, about three quarters of the country's cases are in South Korea's fourth-largest city Daegu. Many of those have been traced back to the Shincheonji Church of Jesus. — Wang

9:02 am: Hong Kong business activity plunges to record low

The coronavirus outbreak has had a "severe impact" on Hong Kong's private sector, IHS Markit said in its latest release of its Hong Kong Purchasing Manager's Index. The index hit a record low of 33.1 in February as "business conditions deteriorated at the steepest pace since the survey began in July 1998."

"Measures taken in response to the Covid-19 situation and general fear of being infected saw business activity and new sales sinking at a record pace in an economy that has been beset earlier by political protests and US-China trade war tensions," Bernard Aw, principal economist at IHS Markit, said in a statement. — Wang

8:29 am: New Zealand confirms second case

New Zealand's health ministry confirmed a woman in her 30s who recently returned to Auckland from northern Italy has the coronavirus — the country's second case. It said, however, the woman "doesn't require hospital level care."

New Zealand said the woman is self-isolated at home with "appropriate clinical support," a protocol it said is an "appropriate response for people with mild to moderate symptoms." The ministry maintained that "with continued vigilance the chance of widespread community outbreak is expected to remain low." — Wang

A general view of passengers arriving at Auckland International Airport on February 5, 2020 in Auckland, New Zealand.
Michael Ng | Getty Images

8:17 am: Hong Kong cuts rate

Hong Kong Monetary Authority cut its base rate by 50 basis points to 1.5%. That move follows the U.S. Federal Reserve's surprise emergency rate cut. The Hong Kong dollar is pegged to the greenback.

The U.S. central bank said in a statement, "The coronavirus poses evolving risks to economic activity." — Wang

All times below are in Eastern time.

6:32 pm: Berkeley, California reports first case, declares emergency

A resident of Berkeley, California, tested positive for the virus — the college town's first confirmed case, local health officials said. City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley proclaimed a local emergency, giving the city access to more resources to help contain any local cases. "While the risk of infection remains low, the expanded presence of the virus in our community is a reality we should all prepare for," City of Berkeley Health Officer Dr. Lisa Hernandez said in a statement. —Kopecki

5:57 pm: Regeneron CEO hopes to have coronavirus vaccine ready for human testing possibly by this summer

Regeneron CEO Leonard Schleifer told CNBC the pharmaceutical company hopes to have its coronavirus treatment produced and ready for human testing possibly by August. "How quickly that can deployed will depend on some of the early data that we have, some animal data, what we will see in patients," Schleifer said on "The Exchange." "I think that we can get a lot done very quickly." — Stankiewicz

VIDEO7:2407:24
Regeneron CEO on coronavirus drug timeline

4:53 pm: World Bank approves $12 billion in emergency financing to help poor nations

The World Bank approved $12 billion in emergency financing to help poor nations with the health costs and economic impact of the outbreak, the organization said. "We are working to provide a fast, flexible response based on developing country needs in dealing with the spread of COVID-19," World Bank Group President David Malpass said in a statement. The money is intended to help the poorest and most at-risk nations fight the virus, which has spread to at least 74 countries across the globe, and will be used to provide emergency financing, technical assistance and policy advice. The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank said on Monday they stood ready to help member countries deal with the coronavirus outbreak, including through emergency funding. — Kopecki

Read CNBC's coverage from the U.S. overnight: U.S. death toll hits 9 as mortality rate of COVID-19 rises

— CNBC's Arjun Kharpal, Evelyn Cheng, Jabari Young, Todd Haselton, J.R. Reed, Dawn Kopecki and Kevin Stankiewicz contributed to this report.