NEWS
05/02/2020 8:40 AM AEDT

Coronavirus Claims Second Life Off Mainland China, Macau Casinos To Close

A man has died in Hong Kong taking the global death toll to 427.

Tyrone Siu / Reuters
A man wearing mask walks in front of Casino Lisboa, before its temporary closing, following the coronavirus outbreak in Macau, China February 4, 2020. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

KEY FACTS

* Man dies in Hong Kong, taking global toll to 427

* Thousands screened on quarantined Japanese cruise ship

* Thailand has highest infections outside China

* Asian governments clamp down on virus misinformation

* Rattled financial markets enjoy some respite

The coronavirus outbreak claimed its first life in Hong Kong on Tuesday, compounding the international financial centre’s problems after anti-government protests, and Macau, the world’s biggest gambling playground, urged casinos to shut their doors.

The victim in Hong Kong was a 39-year-old man with an underlying illness who had visited China’s Wuhan city, the epicentre of the outbreak now under virtual quarantine.

It was the second death from the new coronavirus outside mainland China and brought the toll from the fast-spreading outbreak to 427.

Thousands of medical workers in Hong Kong, a semi-autonomous region of China, held a second day of strikes to press for complete closure of borders with the mainland after three checkpoints were left open.

“We’re not threatening the government, we just want to prevent the outbreak,” said a nurse taking part in the strike.

On Monday evening, the first group of Australian citizens and permanent residents arrived on Christmas Island after being evacuated from Wuhan. 

The 243 people on board the Qantas 747 jet out of Wuhan were given masks and hand sanitiser, and crew members were told to remain on the upper deck of the plane when not manning the doors. Evacuees arrived in Western Australia near Learmonth on Monday before being transferred to the remote Christmas Island detention centre for quarantine purposes. 

They will have to stay in quarantine for 14 days. 

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Wuhan evacuation

The Australian government has prioritised the evacuation to help “vulnerable and isolated Australians.” 

“That is reflected in the fact that 89 of the Australians on the flight are under 16 and five are under two,” said Foreign Minister Marise Payne.  

There were 600 Australians registered in the Hubei region as of last week, and Payne said Canberra would consider further evacuations if needed.

Getty Images
Australians evacuated from China headed for Christmas Island. (Photo by Scott Fisher/Getty Images)

Total infections in mainland China rose to 20,438, and nearly 200 cases have been reported across roughly two dozen countries, Hong Kong and Macau.

Macau, also a special administrative region of China lying across the Pearl River estuary from Hong Kong, said it had asked all casino operators to suspend operations for two weeks to help prevent the coronavirus spreading.

Macau’s chief executive, Ho Iat Seng, made the announcement as the former Portuguese colony, whose glittering casinos draw hundreds of thousands of gamblers from across the globe,  reported 10 confirmed cases of the virus and imposed tight restrictions on movements in and out of the territory.

Thailand’s tally of infections jumped to 25, the highest outside China, while Singapore’s rose to 24.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the flu-like virus a global emergency, and experts say much is still unknown, including its mortality rate and transmission routes.

FOREIGN FEARS

Such uncertainties have spurred strong measures by some countries, offending Beijing’s communist government, which has called for calm, fact-based responses instead of scaremongering.

Hong Kong has confirmed 17 cases. The territory was badly hit by Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), a coronavirus that emerged from China in 2002, killed almost 800 people worldwide and cost the global economy an estimated $33 billion.

Chinese data suggests the new virus, while much more contagious, is significantly less lethal, although such numbers can evolve rapidly.

WHO director of global hazard preparedness Sylvie Briand said most who had died or suffered severe infections were people with underlying health conditions or the elderly.

“NOT A CATASTROPHE”

Raising the prospect of another dispute as trade frictions were easing, Beijing on Monday accused the United States of spreading panic after it announced plans to block nearly all recent foreign visitors to China.

A handful of other nations have done the same.

Britain told its citizens to leave China if they could, and Russia set up a quarantine centre in remote Siberia, where there have been two cases, for Russians evacuated from China.

With the world’s second biggest economy facing increasing isolation and disruption, some economists predict world output will shrink by 0.2 to 0.3 percentage points.

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow played down the potential impact on the United States, but said on Tuesday that China’s coronavirus would delay a surge in US exports to China expected from the Phase 1 trade deal that was to take effect later this month.