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Beijing reports lowest number of new cases since Jan. 30; outbreak ‘beginning’ outside China: expert

Off limits: Diamond Princess cruise, which has 175 infected among 3,700 people onboard, making it the biggest cluster of cases outside China, docking in Yokohama, Japan. Getty ImagesTomohiro Ohsumi

China reported on Wednesday its lowest number of new coronavirus cases in nearly two weeks, lending weight to a forecast by its foremost medical adviser for the outbreak to end by April — but fears of further international spread remained..

The 2,015 new confirmed cases took China’s total to 44,653. That was the lowest daily rise since January 30 and came a day after epidemiologist Zhong Nanshan forecast the epidemic would peak in China this month before subsiding.

Stocks surge

His comments helped soothe public fears and markets, where global stocks surged to record highs on hopes of an end to disruption in the world’s second largest economy.

But the World Health Organization (WHO) has likened the epidemic’s threat to terrorism and one expert said that while it may be peaking in China, this was not the case beyond. “It has spread to other places where it’s the beginning of the outbreak,” Dale Fisher, head of the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network coordinated by the WHO, said. “In Singapore, we are at the beginning of the outbreak.”

Singapore has 47 cases. Its biggest bank, DBS, evacuated 300 staff on Wednesday after a case at head office.

Hundreds of infections have been reported in dozens of other countries and territories, but only two people have died outside mainland China: one in Hong Kong and another in the Philippines.

China’s latest figures also showed that the number of deaths on the mainland rose by 97 to 1,113. But doubts have been aired on social media about how reliable the data is, after the government last week amended guidelines on classification.

Quarantined cruise ship

The biggest cluster of cases outside China is on the Diamond Princess cruise ship quarantined off Japan’s port of Yokohama, with about 3,700 people on board.

Japanese officials on Wednesday said 39 more people had tested positive for the virus, taking the total to 175.

There was a happy ending in sight for another cruise ship, the MS Westerdam, which Thailand, Japan, Taiwan, Guam and the Philippines had refused to let dock over fears that one of its 1,455 passengers and 802 crew may have the coronavirus. Cambodia finally agreed to let the ship dock at the sea port of Sihanoukville on Thursday.

UN health agency experts meet on Wednesday to decide whether the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo should still be considered a global health emergency, following a sharp decline in reported cases.

The World Health Organization last July declared it a “public health emergency of international concern” — a designation that gives the WHO greater powers to restrict travel and boost funding.

The outbreak was first identified in August 2018 and has since killed more than 2,300 people in eastern DR Congo.

‘Situation improving’

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Tuesday said he was “encouraged” by an improvement in the situation, with only three cases reported in the past week. But he added: “It’s not over. Any single case could reignite the epidemic.”

For the epidemic to be declared over, there have to be no new cases reported for 42 days — double the incubation period.

“We cannot and must not forget Ebola,” Mr. Tedros said, adding that he would travel to DR Congo on Thursday to meet President Felix Tshisekedi.

The decision is ultimately up to the WHO’s Emergency Committee that meets every three months once an emergency has been declared.

Retail inflation climbed to an almost six-year high of 7.59%

A day after Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman listed a recovery in industrial output as one of the “green shoots” in the economy, government data showed industrial production contracted again in December 2019, even as retail inflation surged to an almost six-year high of 7.59%.

This is the highest inflation rate since the NDA government came to power at the Centre in May 2014.

The Index of Industrial Production (IIP) recorded a negative growth of 0.3% in December in comparison to the same month the previous year, according to the National Statistical Office (NSO). The IIP had shown a positive growth of 1.8% in November, after three consecutive months of contraction. IIP contraction came largely on the back of a 1.2% slump in the manufacturing sector. In fact, 16 out of 23 industry groups in manufacturing saw negative growth. The production of capital goods fell by 18.2% in comparison to the previous year.

The electricity sector also contracted marginally. The mining sector, on the other hand, saw growth of 5.4%.

NSO’sConsumer Price Index (CPI) data showed retail inflation had surged from 7.35% in December 2019 to 7.59% in January 2020, mostly due to costlier food items.

The last time the inflation rate were higher than this was in May 2014, when retail inflation stood at 8.33%.

Food inflation lower

Food inflation for January 2020 was 13.63%, slightly lower than the previous month’s rate of 14.19%.

Vegetables remained costly, showing a 50% inflation rate, despite the recovery in onion prices. The high prices of proteins — pulses, meat, fish and eggs — also contributed to the high rate of food inflation. This is the fourth straight month that retail inflation has crossed the Reserve Bank of India’s medium term target of 4%.

More lenders must figure among top 100 global banks, says the President

President Ram Nath Kovind and RBI Governor Shaktikanta Das during an event in Pune on Wednesday. Jignesh MistryJignesh Mistry

To achieve the goal of a $5- trillion economy, commercial banks will need to focus on those who are still deprived of formal finance and the country will need more than just one bank in the top 100 global banks, said President Ram Nath Kovind said.

“India has become one of the largest economies in the world. Banks have been a constant part of India’s growth saga. As India aims to become a $5-trillion economy, the banking sector has to start preparing for the next big leap. This mainly involves “banking with the unbanked” and “securing the unsecured,” he said in a speech at the National Institute of Banking Management. He also said India’s future journey will be greatly helped if banks exhibit deeper reach and become more efficient.

“Given the growing size of our economy, we should aim to have more than just one name in the world’s top 100 banks,” he added.

Last month, the economic survey said at least eight banks were needed, which are large enough to belong to the top 100 banks globally, for India to become a $ 5-trillion economy. At present, only State Bank of India is among the top 100 global banks. He pointed out the success of the ‘Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana’ and said almost 35 crore bank accounts had been opened under this scheme. “This number is larger than the population of all countries except ours and China’s,” he said.

Mr. Kovind added that banks needed to take proactive measures to bring greater gender parity in ownership of financial assets. “As part of social responsibility, banks can adopt certain geographical areas for increasing financial awareness among women.” He said the proposal to hike deposit insurance coverage from ₹1 lakh to ₹5 lakh was a positive step towards assuring savers.

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