China’s coronavirus outbreak set a grim new record on Friday, as official data indicated nearly 1,400 were dead and over 64,000 people infected, with businesses and world governments moving to prevent the crisis from worsening.
The unprecedented virus has health officials concerned about its potential to spread beyond China’s borders, despite an ongoing quarantine and shutdown of business in affected Chinese provinces, where the overwhelming majority of the cases are located.
This week, markets have been unsettled by a spike of nearly 15,000 cases skewed tracking of the growth of the coronavirus, the result of infections in Hubei province that were previously unreported. A series of quarantines, travel bans and canceled flights have helped arrest the virus’ spread.
Sylvie Briand, director of infectious hazards management at the World Health Organization, tried to allay rising fears, saying on Friday that previously unreported cases has happened during previous viral outbreaks, and is not a cause for concern.
However, global health officials are seeking more access to the world’s second largest economy to help study the disease’s impact and formulate solutions. The U.S. government has been critical of China’s reporting methods, with National Economic Council director Larry Kudlow saying on Thursday the U.S. is disappointed in the lack of transparency coming out of Beijing.
On Friday, U.S. Health and Human Services Department Secretary Alex Azar told Yahoo Finance the goal remains having a global coalition of experts, including those from the U.S., on the ground in China.
Western doctors should be given “transparent access to the data...(and) can’t just be locked away in a conference room and handed sanitized data,” Azar told “The First Trade” in an interview. “They’ve got to really be there at the lab desk, working with scientists.”
How markets are faring
Wall Street slumped on Thursday in the wake of a sudden spike in China’s case count — by nearly 15,000 overnight — but major benchmarks hovered near unchanged in midday Friday dealings. Investors are still trying to grasp the full magnitude of the outbreak, with China’s borders all but shuttered and multinational corporations fleeing the country.
Andrew Slimmon, a managing director and senior portfolio manager at Morgan Stanley Investment Management, said the market is more bullish at the start of 2020 compared to 2019, in spite of the outbreak.
“In this current environment, we have more than enough evidence in the last six weeks that investors are buying whenever a market pullback occurs. The coronavirus is a great example of investors seeing a potential pullback not as a threat, but as a buying opportunity,” he said.
Markets have also begun to bid up stocks of biotech firms that might be instrumental in the race for a coronavirus vaccine. Inovio (INO) saw a boost Thursday as reports suggested it has already developed a vaccine for the virus.
CEO Joseph Kim told Yahoo Finance its lab in San Diego was able to develop the vaccine hours after China released the virus’s genetic sequence, based solely on the coding of it, but it is still in the trial phase. After receiving initial funding, the company hopes to be in human clinical trials — both in the U.S. and China— by early summer.
A similar technology, of using the genetic sequence, has led to the development of a vaccine in the University of Brisbane in Australia, where scientists say they plan to have a scalable product in 16 weeks. However, other experts say vaccine development could take as long as 18 months.
Around the world
More than 1,700 health workers in China have contracted the virus, with more likely as protective gear becomes increasingly scarce. Meanwhile, front line workers continue to struggle to response to the outbreak, amid supply and diagnostic tool shortages in China, Hong Kong and the surrounding region.
Singapore joined Indonesia and Malaysia, among the neighboring economies that will see an effect from the coronavirus. Chinese and Hong Kong indexes fell late Thursday, but Beijing is expected to continue to stimulate the economy.
The World Health Organization has tried to gather more clarity on the spike in cases in China, including a timeframe of the recorded cases and what was used to constitute them confirmed cases. Those moves come as the U.S. has grown more critical of China’s handling of the crisis.
“Everyone is entitled to their opinion,” said Michael Ryan, director of the emergency program at WHO, noting that U.S. experts will be included in the international team being assembled to work on the ground in China.
Regardless, he noted the “tense political environment” that’s become a backdrop for the outbreak.
Anjalee Khemlani is a reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter: @AnjKhem