Health officials are cautiously optimistic that the slowdown over the last two days in the number of newly confirmed cases of COVID-19, the novel coronavirus that was first identified in late 2019 in Wuhan, China, may indicate that the virus is contained.
“The number of newly confirmed cases reported from China has stabilized over the past week, but that must be interpreted with extreme caution,” Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, World Health Organization director-general, said Wednesday on a call with reporters. “This outbreak could still go in any direction.”
Analysts have also cautioned against reading too literally into the slowdown in infection rates, in part over reports that there are backlogs in testing in China. “Current wave of infections looks to have crested last week,” Cowen analysts wrote in a note on Wednesday. “As new outbreaks usually appear in waves, the key question becomes whether the next wave will be bigger or smaller.”
There are now 45,171 confirmed cases in 25 countries and at least 1,115 deaths, according to the latest figures from the WHO. Only one death has been reported outside of China, in the Philippines, and the last time a new country reported its first case was Feb. 4. In the U.S., there are 13 confirmed cases, with the most recent case identified as a recent returnee from Wuhan who is now in San Diego, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“The behavior of the virus outside of Wuhan…outside of China doesn’t seem to be as aggressive or as accelerated,” said Dr. Michael Ryan, executive director of the WHO Health Emergencies Program.
During the call, WHO officials also said:
• At least three cruise ships have had delays in port clearance or been denied entry to ports. The organization plans to issue guidance to countries telling them to respect the concept of “free pratique,” which is a promise that the ship is free of disease, following concerns that a Holland America Line ship was “stranded at sea for several days” before Cambodia agreed to accept the ship at Sihanoukville, according to Tedros.
• For now, the WHO plans to maintain the outbreak’s status as a public health emergency of international concern. The committee will meet again within the next three weeks to discuss whether the declaration is still necessary.
• The WHO on Wednesday concluded two days of work to set out a global research agenda for COVID-19. There is a need for point-of-care diagnostics, which can be used at home or in a clinical setting, especially if the virus spreads to lower-income countries. The WHO plans to put together a master plan for conducting clinical trials for the vaccines and therapeutics being tested for the virus. WHO officials said there are four vaccine candidates, and they expect one or two of them to go through human trials in the next three to four months. However, it will take up to 18 months for a vaccine candidate to be available.
• Officials also responded to criticism that China didn’t act quickly enough to prevent the spread of the COVID-19. Tedros said that China identified the pathogen “in record time” before sharing the genetic sequence in mid-January. The decision to shut off Wuhan should speak to China’s intent to prevent the virus from spreading, Tedros said, noting that the decision had economic consequences.
Here’s what companies are saying about COVID-19:
• Carnival Corp. CCL, +2.27% said Wednesday there could be a fiscal 2020 earnings-per-share impact of 55 cents to 65 cents if all operations are suspended in Asia through the end of April. That situation hasn’t come to pass, but Carnival says there will be a material impact on the business due to suspended cruises in Chinese ports, cancellations in other parts of Asia, and the impact on bookings, which the company said is determined by the length of time that an event influences travel. Carnival’s Holland America Line confirmed that the Westerdam, which has 1,455 passengers and 802 crew members, is expected to dock in Sihanoukville, Cambodia, on Thursday. The ship, which was scheduled to disembark Saturday in Yokohama, Japan, had been turned away from four other countries over virus concerns, according to Reuters. A company spokesperson said there are no suspected cases of the virus on board. Another cruise ship, the Diamond Princess, that docked in Yokohama earlier this month has reported upward of 175 infections from COVID-19.
• PVH Corp. PVH, +3.70%, which markets the Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger brands, said that 20% of its global sourcing comes from greater China, which also made up 7% of its 2019 revenue. Most PVH-owned stores in China remain closed. Still, the company reaffirmed its adjusted earnings per share guidance of $1.79 for the fourth quarter and at least $9.45 for the full year.
• Hasbro Inc. HAS, -2.19% continues “to have office and third-party factory closures” in China as a result of the outbreak. The company said that about two-thirds of its global sourcing comes from China. “The biggest unknown right now is how quickly the manufacturing factories can get their production ramp back up,” Hasbro CFO Deborah Thomas told investors on a Tuesday earnings call. “Travel is limited, places are still closed.”
• Visa Inc. V, +1.51% told investors that it is too early to tell how the outbreak will impact the company. “If planes are not flying in and out of China, if hotels are not being filled, which they’re not at the moment, and if the supply chains are being impacted, which I suspect they are, there’s going to be some impact,” a Visa executive said Tuesday at an investor day. “It’s just going to depend on how long this goes on.”
Here’s how global events are being impacted:
• The Mobile World Congress, scheduled to begin Feb. 24 in Barcelona, has been canceled over COVID-19 concerns. A number of high-profile companies including Amazon.com Inc. AMZ, +0.00%, Cisco Systems Inc. CSCO, +1.23%, and Facebook Inc. FB, +1.67%, among others, have said they would not attend. John Hoffman, chief executive of show organizer GSMA, said in an email that the outbreak has made it “impossible” to hold the event.
• Formula One has postponed the Formula One Heineken Chinese Grand Prix 2020, which was scheduled to take place April 19, over virus concerns. “All parties will take the appropriate amount of time to study the viability of potential alternative dates for the Grand Prix later in the year should the situation improve,” the company said in a statement.
Additional reporting by Barbara Kollmeyer, Jon Swartz and Tonya Garcia
Read more of MarketWatch’s COVID-19 coverage:
Coronavirus may be smaller risk to Chinese manufacturing than feared, says JPMorgan
Oil boosted as worries ease over coronavirus hit to crude demand
Miners and oil companies climb in London amid hopes coronavirus is slowing