World Newsletter

17 MARCH 2020


China firmly supports Italy's efforts to fight the novel coronavirus pneumonia epidemic and is fully confident that Italy will win the battle against the virus, President Xi Jinping said. He made the remark in a phone call with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on Monday.

The Italian government has taken a series of resolute measures to prevent and control the epidemic, he said. Xi said that China feels Italy's worry as its own and will send additional expert medical teams to Italy and provide assistance such as medical supplies within its ability.

China stands ready to work with Italy to make contributions to international epidemic cooperation and the building of the Silk Road of Health, he said.

China believes that the friendship and mutual trust between China and Italy will further deepen through joint efforts in combating the virus, thus creating broader prospects for all-around bilateral cooperation, Xi said.

Noting that both countries have experienced severe tests from the epidemic, Xi said that the situation in China is witnessing positive changes with important short-term progress achieved and economic and social development resuming.

China will remain cautious and strive to finally win the battle against the virus as early as possible, providing confidence for epidemic control in other countries, he added.

Meanwhile, containment measures in Europe, now the epicenter of the outbreak, have intensified across the continent, with the Czech Republic imposing a quarantine on the entire country and Germany deciding to partially close its borders as of Monday.

Following Italy's example, the Czech Republic's government banned nonessential movement of people across the country as of Monday in an effort to contain the COVID-19 spread, Prime Minister Andrej Babis said on Sunday night. He urged citizens to limit movement in public spaces to "a necessary minimum" and limit the contacts with others to "a bare minimum".

The new measures, effective until March 24, do not apply to those going to work. People are allowed to shop, see doctors and visit family. The country reported 293 infections as of Sunday.

Italy, the most affected country in Europe, is still under a countrywide lockdown, with a total of 24,747 cases and 1,809 deaths reported as of Monday, according to the WHO.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said the government is working urgently on procuring more protective equipment, and its priority is to keep doctors, nurses and all health personnel safe. Italy is also expected to issue a package of measures on Monday to help businesses and families amid fears of an economic crisis.



Central banks keep reloading their weapons to lessen market fears caused by the global coronavirus pneumonia pandemic, while analysts call for more joint action to constrain the epidemic and prevent a severe economic downturn.

The People's Bank of China, the central bank, refrained from cutting the benchmark interest rates on Monday, but injected new liquidity of 100 billion yuan ($14.3 billion) into the financial system through the one-year, medium-term lending facility, keeping the rate unchanged at 3.15 percent.

It followed with another 550 billion yuan on the same day, through cutting the amount of cash some commercial banks must hold in reserve, the reserve requirement ratio.

The central bank still has policy space to lower the lending rate, possibly through cutting the one-year loan prime rate to 4 percent as early as Friday to shore up economic growth, according to Wen Bin, chief economist at China Minsheng Bank.

"The window for additional interest rate cuts will remain open in the first half of April, when consumer inflation pressure may be slightly eased," he said.

Policies already rolled out by the central government, including interest rate cuts, reductions in the reserve requirement ratio, support for easier lending conditions for businesses, tax relief measures and infrastructure investment, are expected to help support the economic recovery, Luis Kuijs, head of Asia Economics for Oxford Economics, said on Monday.

While China still holds conventional monetary policy tools, some major central banks have rushed into anticrisis mode by immediately expending their full range of tools to head off the downturn risks.



A second wave of novel coronavirus in China "is not a great concern" though a spattering of sporadic cases and new infections imported from overseas are expected to persist for a period of time, front-line medical experts said on Monday.

As the pathogen has been largely wrested under control in China and is now spreading rapidly in other countries, Chinese experts have pinpointed rigorous prevention and control measures, including prompt and wide testing, as the prime mission in fighting the virus, urging the rest of the world to formulate detailed emergency plans.

"The outbreak in China, which started last December, has almost seen its end. We will wait for another month to make the final judgment but personally speaking, a second domestic outbreak in China is not a great concern with such strong prevention and control measures," said Cao Wei, deputy director of the Peking Union Medical College Hospital's infectious disease department, adding that the country will continue to see a low level of newly confirmed cases, including imported infections.

In Wuhan, Hubei province, the epicenter of the epidemic in China, all makeshift treatment centers have been closed, and the remaining patients are now being centralized to a few designated hospitals.

"It seems that the outbreak of COVID-19 in Hubei has come to an end, although we should be alert to abnormal signals and sporadic cases arising from communities," said Du Bin, director of the hospital's intensive care unit.

He said the key lesson in China's effective containment of the infectious virus is that the significance of prevention and control work outweighs that of treatment efforts.

"You must have a plan. Failure to prepare is preparing for failure," he said. "Even now in Hubei and Wuhan with fewer and fewer diagnosed cases, we should remain alert and prepare for future sporadic cases and imported cases."

Du said that based on China's experiences, wide-ranging testing is an essential tool in identifying and quarantining suspected cases and people who came in close contact with the infected.

Wuhan had reached a turning point of the outbreak after being able to isolate all suspected cases and close contacts, he added.

In terms of the re-infection of recovered patients, Yan Xiaowei, deputy director of the hospital's internal medicine department, said a positive nucleic acid test alone in the absence of abnormal body temperature and telltale chest imaging does not confirm diagnosis.

To root out the risk, recovered patients in China are required to receive follow-up checks and frequent temperature monitoring and isolate themselves for at least two weeks under the monitoring of local inspectors.



The price of domestic refined oil products will be substantially reduced starting Wednesday, based on its pricing mechanism, said the country's top economic regulator on Tuesday.

According to the country's current pricing mechanism for refined oil products which was first introduced in 2016, petrol and diesel prices would not be adjusted as long as global crude oil goes below $40 a barrel or above $130 a barrel. Under the pricing mechanism, when the global crude oil price falls below $40 per barrel, the incremental profit margin will be directed to a special risk reserve, which will allocate funds to oil product upgrades, the security of the oil supply, energy conservation and emission reduction.

China will adjust the prices of oil products every 10 working days to better reflect changes in the global oil market, said the National Development and Reform Commission during a news conference in Beijing on Tuesday.

As a major crude importer, consumer and producer, an oil price either too low or too high will both lead to negative impact on the country, it said. While a high oil price will impose a burden on oil consuming industries and consumers, a low oil price will jeopardize the normal operations of the domestic crude exploitation industry and further enhance China's dependency ratio on foreign oil.

The policy will help China enhance its crude quality, enhance energy security and protect itself against the drastic fluctuation of international oil prices, it said.



Shipments of 5G smartphones are set to increase in China, as the intensified push to expedite the rollout of the superfast wireless technology will help revive handset sales, analysts said on Monday.

Li Huaibin, a senior analyst at Omedia, a global telecom research and consulting institute, said although the novel coronavirus outbreak is affecting 4G smartphone sales, it would have little impact on 5G phones.

The comments came after shipments of phones declined 56 percent year-on-year to 6.38 million units in February, as the epidemic affected the sales and plants' production capabilities, the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology, a government think tank, said in its latest report.

Despite the plunge, the combined shipments of 5G smartphones in January and February reached 78.4 million units, accounting for 28.8 percent of all handsets shipped, the report said.

More importantly, smartphone vendors hold positive market expectations and are betting big on 5G-the industry's new engine for growth, despite the current challenges.

Smartphone vendors including Samsung, Huawei, Oppo, Xiaomi, Vivo, Realme and Black Shark all released their flagship 5G smartphones in the past two months, mainly targeted at the high-end market.

According to GFK, an international market research institute, global 5G smartphone shipments are expected to reach 170 million units this year, with China accounting for 110 million units, or 65 percent of the global shipments.

Liu Zuohu, CEO and founder of smartphone vendor OnePlus, said the company's next generation of smartphones will all be powered by 5G.



As overall infections overseas surpassed the country's caseload, imported COVID-19 cases keep cropping up in multiple regions on Chinese mainland, disrupting the trend of the epidemic grinding to a halt in China, as the most recent data shows.

The number of infections on the Chinese mainland rose by 21 over the course of Monday to 80,881, according to data released by the National Health Commission early on Tuesday.

All but one of the additional cases were imported ones. Beijing saw nine imported cases over the course of Monday, followed by Shanghai with three. Excluding imported cases, regions outside Hubei on the Chinese mainland have reported no infections for the past five days.

To date, 143 imported cases have been counted, according to the commission.

The one domestic infection was reported from Wuhan, Hubei province - center of the outbreak - marking the sixth consecutive day of the province counting single-digit increases. The rest of the province has seen no new cases 12 days in a row.

With 13 further fatalities, a total of 3,226 people have succumbed to the virus on the Chinese mainland, the commission said.

The backlog of treating the infected has been further reduced, with more discharged from hospitals and a further decline of patients that need intensive care.

Another 930 people were discharged from hospitals on Monday, bringing up the number of recovered Chinese mainland patients to 68,679, the commission said.

With a daily reduction of 202 patients exhibiting serious symptoms, the number of such patients now stands at 2,830. In total, 8,976 patients are still hospitalized.

There are now 128 suspected infections on the Chinese mainland, and 45 of them were counted on Monday.

Among the 681,404 people who have so far been traced as close contacts with the infected, 9,351 are still under medical observation, it said.

In Hubei, with the latest daily increase of one case in capital Wuhan, the caseload has reached 67,799. To date, the disease had claimed 3,111 lives in the province as of Monday at midnight, the commission said.

The case count in Wuhan now stands at 50,004. With 11 further deaths, the number of fatalities in the city has reached 2,480.

The Hong Kong and Macao Special Administrative Regions and Taiwan province have reported a total of 235 confirmed cases, including four deaths in Hong Kong and one death in Taiwan, the commission noted.

In these regions, 120 patients have been discharged from hospitals.



Enterprises in Wuhan, Hubei province, epicenter of the novel coronavirus outbreak in China, are set to resume production after a monthslong suspension as containment of the epidemic gains momentum.

Only four new infections were reported on Sunday in Wuhan thanks to the comprehensive and rigorous measures taken to stem the spread of the virus in the city. As the situation improves, local authorities look to reinstate normal socioeconomic order.

Companies in Wuhan that are part of such sectors as medical equipment, medicine, protective gear and disinfectant production-and those related to public utilities including power, water and gas supply, communications, environment and medical waste disposal-are allowed to resume production, according to a notice released by the provincial authorities.

Enterprises that help provide daily necessities for the public and products or services for agricultural production are also allowed to restart operations, the notice said.

The companies that have an impact on national or global industrial chains may resume operations subject to the approval of related authorities and under the condition that they will put epidemic control measures in place and remain committed to shouldering their responsibilities for epidemic prevention, according to the notice.

Further, enterprises that have been authorized to remain in operation since the Lunar New Year holiday may continue functioning, while other businesses are still not allowed to resume operations before March 20, the notice said.

Since the start of the outbreak, the local government has ordered businesses to suspend operations to reduce population movements as part of its efforts to curb the spread of the epidemic.

An Yonghong, vice-president of Humanwell PuraCap Pharmaceuticals (Wuhan) Co, said his company obtained approval to resume production on Feb 26 after putting an emergency plan in place.

"The market demand for our products has surged over the past two months. However, we need to strike a balance between ensuring employee safety and meeting market demand, so we have partially resumed production while making sure everything is under control," An said, adding his company has resumed only 20 percent of its operations.

Jiang Tao, general manager of Sinopharm Chonglian Pharmaceutical Co, said that about 130 of the 457 employees in his company have come back to work.

Jiang noted that he has been quite stressed over the past few weeks, not only from the business itself but also from epidemic prevention measures as he has to ensure his workers are not infected.

"Despite resumption of production, epidemic prevention still remains a priority as one infected case among our employees might risk us suspending production," Jiang said. "So we have put every rigorous preventive measure in place."

With the city still in a state of emergency, many restrictions and challenges have to be tackled and overcome before full production can resume. Like many other business operators, both An and Jiang are facing the challenges while preparing for full production.



Through perseverance many people win success out of what seemed destined to be certain failure. - Benjamin Disraeli


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