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Here's what you need to know about the coronavirus outbreak

Anjalee Khemlani
Senior Reporter

China’s coronavirus outbreak, which originated in Wuhan and continues to upend travel and worldwide markets, has now been confirmed in 14 locations — including 5 cases in the United States as of Sunday. The death toll in China and the region has surpassed 80, and more than 2,700 cases have been confirmed.

As the World Health Organization works to determine if the outbreak is a global public health emergency, Beijing has imposed a quarantine on about 50 million of its citizens.

For now, the impact in other countries has been relatively limited, and the Centers for Disease Control is monitoring airports for travelers arriving from China and the surrounding region. Still, investors are growing increasingly restive about the possibility of a global pandemic.

Yahoo Finance is following developments closely, and will bring you updates as they occur.

What’s happening in the markets

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JANUARY 27: Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) on January 27, 2020 in New York City. U.S. stocks fell sharply in morning trading as fears over the spreading coronavirus continue to unsettle global markets. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell over 400 points after the Opening Bell. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

While markets remain closed in China and Hong Kong, the virus’s spread has hammered Wall Street. Travel and leisure stocks slumped — with airlines, casinos and luxury brands under the most pressure amid fears that quarantines and travel bans will undermine their businesses.

Amid fears that the outbreak is more severe than the Chinese government is letting on, investors have reacted by selling off stocks.

“Hopes that the virus would be contained were squashed over the weekend. Although historically these outbreaks have been buying opportunities, the bottom line is investors are taking a sell first and ask questions later approach right now,” said Ryan Detrick,senior market strategist for LPL Financial.

On Monday, Carnival (CCL) and Royal Caribbean Cruises (RCL) suspended cruises originating from China, and would refund customers. Both stocks were hammered in Monday’s trading, with Royal Caribbean tumbling as much as 8.5%, which according to Bloomberg would be its biggest drop since June 2016, and are down 13% over the past week.

Carnival shed as much as 5.9%, its biggest intraday drop since September, and is also down 13% in the past week, Bloomberg said. Norwegian Cruise Line (NCLH) also fell, by around 5%.

But some pharmaceutical and biotech stocks rallied on the news of the virus. Large cap companies like Johnson & Johnson and Gilead Sciences announced they have entered the race to find a vaccine for the new virus strain.

Smaller caps are leading in percent gains among health care stocks— including Inovio (INO), Novavax (NVAX), Vir Technology (VIR) and Meridian Bioscience (VIVO)— after announcing varied responses to the vaccine.

What experts are saying

Public health experts have pointed out that conventional flu bugs have been far deadlier than the current outbreak. However, Ma Xiaowei, Minister of the Chinese Health Commission, delivered a grim assessment of the virus’ contagious qualities on Sunday.

Even as the government imposes quarantines and travel bans, Ma said the disease was accelerating and becoming more difficult to control. The government plans to construct a 1,000-bed hospital, similar to what Beijing built during the SARS outbreak, but it isn't clear when it will be ready.

Meanwhile, Chinese social media app, WeChat, had added a whistleblower function to allow residents to report medical malpractice amid the outbreak.

Despite these efforts, there have been what appear to be videos of doubters and critics of the Chinese government shared on social media.

Separately, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, based in Norway, announced two companies, Inovio and Moderna, would receive funding to develop vaccines in response to the coronavirus.

Over the last week, investors have bid up certain pharmaceutical stocks that may benefit in the search for a vaccine — but analysts say that speculation might be getting ahead of itself.

Raymond James analyst Chris Meekins told Yahoo Finance last week that betting on certain stocks was premature at best. He explained that in prior pandemics such as Ebola, bird flu and Zika, there wasn’t a developed commercial market until governments put up initial money for development.

“It’s important to know how big the potential universe for any vaccine is likely to be,” he told Yahoo Finance. 

“So companies that have a partnership with the government … those would be areas that are better to invest in than companies that don’t have government funding, because I don’t believe there’s a sustained investment,” Meekins added.

Meanwhile, Healix International’s chief medical officer, Adrian Hyzler, told Yahoo Finance on Monday that while SARS killed more people, the coronavirus might be more transmissible.

Anjalee Khemlani is a reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter: @AnjKhem

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