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Coronavirus update: Hopes for a breakthrough spark market rally; situation in China remains dire

Anjalee Khemlani
Senior Reporter

As the coronavirus outbreak continues to roil China, Wednesday brought new developments that raised hopes for a breakthrough in the global battle to contain the disease.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Tuesday was the worst on record for the number of new reported coronavirus cases, which have topped 24,000 with nearly 500 deaths. Outside of China, there are only two reported deaths: One in the Philippines and the other in Hong Kong.

However, some of the gloom was dispelled by a report suggesting Chinese researchers may have found a treatment for the virus, while a separate team of British scientists said they may have found a “significant breakthrough” in the search for a vaccine.

Although experts have said an effective cure would take months, if not years, to find, investors reacted by sending stocks sharply higher. However, sectors like travel, retail and technology remain under pressure as products and services are halted amid the outbreak.

In the U.S., which has only reached 11 confirmed cases, the Food and Drug Administration said on Tuesday it would expand the use of the Center for Disease Control’s testing kits.

What’s happening in markets

Global markets have all but fully recovered from knee-jerk selling earlier in the week. Yet as China scrambles to contain new infections, businesses are still pulling back from operating in its crisis-battered economy.

Aerospace giant Airbus joined a slew of other major companies which have announced halting production in China until further notice.

In recent days, cruise lines have rolled out strict new guidelines for travel, including requiring extra screenings for individuals who hold a Chinese passport— regardless of whether they were in the region recently or not.

Underscoring the growing peril for travel and leisure industries as the world’s second largest economy remains effectively quarantined from the rest of the world, Cathay Pacific is now asking all staff to take a three-week unpaid holiday.

Airline and cruise stocks have recovered from the impact of coronavirus fears last week, but the effect on the quarter’s earnings remains to be seen.

The impact around the world

Some researchers believe the virus is similar to SARS, though less deadly, which could mean treatments for SARS could be effective in the fight against the coronavirus.

However, the situation in China remains dire, and most of Asia continues to struggle with the spillover effects. Concerns about the shortage of face masks and medical supplies in the region are growing as new case numbers spike.

Macau — an epicenter of the world’s gambling activity — declared it would shut down all of its 41 casinos to help curb the spread. Separately, Taiwan has ramped up its restrictions from anyone traveling from China, Hong Kong or Macau, saying they would be required to be quarantined for 14 days.

Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, has been criticized for not closing all borders to mainland China, as tens of thousands of travelers move between the mainland and Hong Kong daily.

In a news conference Wednesday, Lam said the territory has a strong public health infrastructure and can respond to the public health crisis. She added that the people of Hong Kong don’t need to ask for extreme travel measures.

“We have a population that has gone through several of these infectious disease so they should be more alert to the various prevention measures,” she said.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced $100 million to help combat the outbreak Wednesday, with a special focus on Africa and South Asia.

Meanwhile, the WHO is looking to raise $675 million. At least $60 million would go directly to the organization, in order to help expand the response for the outbreak in parts of the world where testing is not likely happening.

This has called attention to African countries, where Chinese travelers are also frequent, but the response to the virus has been minimal with no reported cases.

Anjalee Khemlani is a reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter: @AnjKhem

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