National News

Virus toll surges, fears for China economy

The death toll from the coronavirus epidemic in mainland China has soared past 1000 as the prolonged disruption to factories and businesses plays havoc with the world's second-largest economy.

Hundreds of Chinese firms say they will need billions of dollars in loans to stay afloat and layoffs have begun, despite assurances by President Xi Jinping that widespread sackings would be avoided.

Another 108 new coronavirus deaths were reported on Tuesday, a daily record, bringing the total number of people killed in the country to 1016, the National Health Commission said.

There were 2478 new confirmed cases on the mainland on February 10, down from 3062 on the previous day, bringing the total to 42,638.

It was the second time in two weeks authorities recorded a daily drop in new cases but the World Health Organization cautions the spread of cases outside China could be "the spark that becomes a bigger fire".

So far 319 cases have been confirmed in 24 other countries and territories, according to WHO and Chinese health officials, with two deaths outside mainland China in Hong Kong and the Philippines.

More than 300 Chinese companies are seeking at least 57.4 billion yuan ($A12.3 billion) in loans to help cope with locked down cities, closed factories and crippled supply lines, banking sources say.

Among the prospective borrowers are food delivery giant Meituan Dianping, smartphone maker Xiaomi Corp and ride-hailing provider Didi Chuxing Technology Co.

Chinese firm Xinchao Media said on Monday it had laid off 500 people or just over 10 per cent of its workforce, and restaurant chain Xibei said it was worried about paying its roughly 20,000 workers.

Authorities said on Tuesday they will roll out measures to stabilise jobs, in addition to previously announced cuts to interest rates and fiscal stimulus designed to keep downturn to a minimum.

Asian share markets followed Wall Street higher on Tuesday as China's factories struggled to re-open after an extended break for Lunar New Year, though analysts warned investors might be underestimating how damaging the challenge was likely to be.

One Chinese government think-tank forecast the virus would wipe one percentage point off annual economic growth in China and analysts fear a prolonged disruption could have negative global consequences.

China's Hubei province, the epicentre of the outbreak, reported 2097 new cases and 103 new deaths on Monday, more than any other day since the flu-like virus emerged from a wildlife market in December.

The number of reported cases however fell almost 20 per cent compared to the previous day.

Hubei remains in virtual lockdown, with train stations and airports shut and roads blocked.

One Beijing government official, Zhang Ge, said it would be harder to curb the spread of the virus as people return to work.

"The capacity of communities and flow of people will greatly increase the difficulty," he said.

About 160 million people are expected to return to their homes across China over the next week following the end of their holidays.

The Diamond Princess cruise ship with 3700 passengers and crew remains quarantined in the Japanese port of Yokohama, with 65 more cases detected, taking its number of confirmed cases to 135.

© RAW 2020