China's exports fell by double digits in January and February as anti-virus controls closed factories, while imports sank by a smaller margin.
Exports tumbled 17.2% from a year earlier to $292.4 billion, a sharp reverse from December's 7.8% rise, customs data showed Saturday. Imports declined 4% to $299.5 billion, down from the previous month's 16.3% gain.
Trade was poised for a boost after Beijing and Washington removed punitive tariffs on some of each other's goods in a trade truce signed in January. But that was offset by Chinese anti-virus controls that shut down much of the world's second-largest economy in late January.
Exports to the United States plunged 27.7% in January and February to $43 billion, worsening from December's 12.5% decline. Imports of American goods crept up 2.5% to $17.6 billion, but China still recorded a $25.4 billion trade surplus with the United States.
China's global trade balance fell to a $7.1 billion deficit for the first two months of the year.
Manufacturers that make the world's smartphones, toys and other consumer goods are reopening but say the pace will be dictated by how quickly supply chains start functioning again. Forecasters say industries are unlikely to be back to normal production before at least April.
Until the virus outbreak, Chinese trade had been unexpectedly resilient despite Beijing's tariff war with President Donald Trump over its technology ambitions and trade surplus. Last year's exports rose 0.5% over 2018.
Beijing told exporters to pursue other markets in Asia, Europe and Africa after Trump slapped punitive duties on their goods starting in 2018. China retaliated by raising tariffs on American soybeans and other goods.
Some of those penalties were rolled back after the two sides signed a "Phase 1" agreement in January. Washington canceled additional planned tariff hikes and Beijing promised to buy more American farm exports.
Economists warn the truce fails to address contentious U.S.-Chinese disputes that might take years to resolve.
China's customs agency began reporting January and February trade figures together this year to screen out the impact of the Lunar New Year holiday, which comes at different times each year during the two-month period.
Factories traditionally usually shut down for two weeks or longer while their employees visit their hometowns.
Imports usually surge after the holiday as factories restock. But this year's rebound was postponed after the holiday was extended by at least one week — more in some places — to keep factories and offices closed as authorities tried to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
Chinese leaders are trying to limit economic damage by ordering local officials in areas deemed at low disease risk to help factories reopen. But many say they have trouble getting raw materials and employees because controls on travel still are in place in many areas.
The Chinese shutdown sent shockwaves through Asian economies that supply components and raw materials to Chinese factories that assemble the world's smartphones, toys, home appliances and other consumer goods.
Shopping malls, restaurants and other retail businesses also were closed. Demand for online grocery vendors surged but sales of other goods slumped.
Wearing gas masks and waterproof fatigues, members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard now spray down streets and hospitals with disinfectants as the Islamic Republic faces one of the world's worst outbreaks of the new coronavirus.
Its commanders likely hope it also will wash away something else — the anger the public feels toward the powerful paramilitary force stained by its shooting down of a Ukrainian passenger jet in January. All 176 people on board — most of them Iranian citizens — were killed.
The push by the Guard comes as the new virus has infected and killed members of Iranian officialdom. Ensuring the survival of the government — as well as its own place in power — remains paramount amid one of the world's deadliest virus outbreaks outside of China. Fear over the virus and the government's waning credibility has become a major challenge to Iran's leaders, who already are reeling under the weight of American sanctions.
"We have prepared all our health care facilities and specialized cadres that will expand this sacred jihad," said Brig. Gen. Gholamreza Soleimani, who commands the Guard's volunteer Basij force.
That the Guard is involved in the relief effort of a major catastrophe is not surprising in Iran. The Guard, whose forces include an estimated 125,000-plus troops and 600,000 mission-ready volunteers, routinely respond to the earthquakes that shake the country. Recent floods saw its troops mobilize as well.
Its forces, which include virologists, faced chemical weapons during Iran's eight-year war against Iraq in the 1980s. It expanded into private industry after the war years to help the country rebuild. And the Guard, also known by the acronym IRGC, has conducted polio and other immunization drives in the past.
"The IRGC sees itself as the lead agency in any threat against the regime," said Afshon Ostovar, an assistant professor at the Naval Postgraduate School in the United States who wrote book on the Guard. "Whether it's protests, a state adversary or a virus, the IRGC will position itself publicly as Iran's frontline defender."
Today, the Guard controls broad parts of Iran's economy, including its powerful construction company Khatam al-Anbiya. Exactly how much it controls is in dispute, with estimates ranging from below 10% to as much as 40%, but Iran's government needs the Guard's economic muscle in times of crisis, especially as it faces crushing sanctions from the U.S.
The Guard's troops have moved into hard-hit cities like Tehran, Rasht and Qom. Using modular construction, they've quickly built hospitals and created a headquarters called the Coronavirus Fight Base, staffed with so-called "modern warfare units" who focus on responses to chemical, biological and cyberattacks.
Wearing gas masks and suits designed to protect during chemical weapons attacks, Guard members have been seen washing down areas to kill lingering traces of the virus that causes the COVID-19 illness. They've touted operations to target those hoarding desperately needed medical supplies.
"Their show of force regarding the coronavirus is as much political theater as a public health effort," Ostovar said.
It comes as propaganda images created amid the outbreak have shown doctors and nurses in the foxhole with troops. That contrast also helps mock Iran's civilian government, whose esteem among the public already is reeling since President Donald Trump's decision to unilaterally withdraw the U.S. from Iran's 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
"Now, hospitals are Iran's front line," one volunteer at an Iranian hospital said her mother told her in a widely shared online video. "If you leave the front line, you'll be deserter and I do not welcome a draft dodger in my home."
That kind of spirit comes as a balm for Guard members, who have seen themselves widely criticized after shooting down Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 on Jan. 8. That same day, the Guard had launched a ballistic missile attack on U.S. forces in Iraq. That attack came as a response to the U.S. drone strike in Baghdad killing Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani, a top commander responsible for the force's expeditionary operations across the wider Mideast.
Even before that, the Guard and security forces cracked down on protesters across the country in November, reportedly killing at least 300 people amid a nationwide internet blackout. Some bitterly note the irony of the Guard using the term "suppression" to describe their anti-virus operations in the wake of the crackdown.
"On COVID-19, it's clear that there's been a great deal of mismanagement and so the Guards are now trying to present themselves as the saviors," said Ariane Tabatabai, an Iran analyst at the U.S.-based RAND Corp. "And of course, it doesn't hurt to be able to change the conversation from the airliner episode — although, this will be a hard task to achieve given that both are examples of incompetence and mismanagement."
The risks, however, are clear. If Iran doesn't get a handle on the virus outbreak, it's more than just the Guard's reputation on the line. Already, top officials in Iran's civilian government and its Shiite theocracy have contracted the virus, with several dying. Given that the virus is sweeping through the upper-echelons of power in Tehran and its front-line operation in hospitals, Guard members may too come down with COVID-19.
The Guard also has trafficked in baseless conspiracy theories amid the outbreak, with its leader Gen. Hossein Salami falsely suggesting the U.S. created the virus amid the wider tensions with America.
"We will win in the fight against the virus, which may be the product of the American biological invasion, which it first spread to China and then to Iran and the rest of the world," Salami told a crowd in the Iranian city of Kerman. "The U.S. must know that if it did it, (the virus) will return to it."
Still, the Guard's power means it will remain front and center in any response to the virus crisis. The Guard only will grow more powerful if the outbreak remains severe into July, the global analysis firm the Eurasia Group said.
"A broader role is likely for the Revolutionary Guard in all aspects of the economic, political and public-health response," it said in an analysis Thursday.
SpaceX successfully launched another load of station supplies for NASA late Friday night and nailed its 50th rocket landing.
The Falcon rocket blasted off with 4,300 pounds (1,950 kilograms) of equipment and experiments for the International Space Station. Just minutes later, the spent first-stage booster made a dramatic midnight landing back at Cape Canaveral, its return accompanied by sonic booms.
"And the Falcon has landed for the 50th time in SpaceX history!" SpaceX engineer Jessica Anderson announced amid cheers at Mission Control. "What an amazing live view all the way to touchdown."
The Dragon capsule, meanwhile, hurtled toward a Monday rendezvous with the space station.
It's the 20th station delivery for SpaceX, which has launched nearly 100,000 pounds (45,360 kilograms) of goods to the orbiting outpost and returned nearly that much back to Earth since it began shipments in 2012. Northrop Grumman is NASA's other commercial shipper.
SpaceX founder and chief executive Elon Musk said it was the windiest conditions ever — 25 mph to 30 mph (40 kph to 48 kph) — for a booster landing at Cape Canaveral, but he wanted to push the envelope. The landing was the 50th successful touchdown of a SpaceX booster following liftoff, either on land or at sea.
"Envelope expanded," Musk tweeted following touchdown.
The company's first booster landing was in 2015, intended as a cost-saving, rocket-recycling move. Both the latest booster and Dragon capsule were recycled from previous flights.
Among the science experiments flying: an analysis of running shoe cushioning in weightlessness by Adidas, a water droplet study by Delta Faucet Co. striving for better showerhead water conservation, 3D models of heart and intestinal tissue, and 320 snippets of grape vines by Space Cargo Unlimited, the same Luxembourg startup that sent 12 bottles of red wine to the space station last November for a year of high-altitude aging.
The Dragon also contained treats for the two Americans and one Russian at the space station: grapefruit, oranges, apples, tomatoes, Skittles, Hot Tamales and Reese's Pieces.
As for packing the capsule for launch, no extra precautions were taken because of the global coronavirus outbreak, according to NASA. The usual stringent precautions were taken to avoid passing along any germs or diseases to the space station crew. The doctor-approved procedures have proven effective in the past, officials noted.
This is the last of SpaceX's original Dragon cargo capsules. Going forward, the company will launch supplies in second-generation Dragons, roomier and more elaborate versions built for crews.
The company aims to launch NASA astronauts this spring. The California-based SpaceX also teaming up with other companies to fly tourists and private researchers to the space station, as well as high solo orbits in the next couple years.
Two people who tested positive for the new coronavirus have died in Florida, marking the first deaths on the East Coast attributed to the outbreak in the U.S., health officials said Friday.
The Florida Department of Health said the two people who died were in their 70s and had traveled overseas. The announcement raises the U.S. death toll from the novel coronavirus strain to 16, including 13 in the state of Washington and one in California.
One of the Florida deaths was that of a man with underlying health issues in Santa Rosa County in Florida's Panhandle, according to the statement. The health department added that the second death was that of an elderly person in Lee County, in the Fort Myers area.
The statement did not give immediate indications of where the two had traveled or whether officials were seeking to determine who they came in contact with.
Helen Aguirre Ferre, a spokeswoman for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, confirmed the deaths and other new cases in South Florida, on Twitter. She promised in her tweet that updates would be provided regularly as they become available.
The spokeswoman did not immediately respond to an email request by The Associated Press for more information.
As of Friday, Florida authorities said seven people in the state have tested positive for COVID-19. They said six are Florida residents and the seventh is a non-resident.
One of the new cases was only confirmed after the person had died, according to the statement. The other two cases that were confirmed to have tested positive on Friday were a 65-year-old man and a 75-year-old man, both in Broward County, home to Fort Lauderdale. The state's health department said both men have been isolated until public health officials clear them.
Officials had previously announced that five Florida residents who had been traveling in China have also been quarantined elsewhere after testing positive for the virus.
Officials continued to say on Friday that the risk to those in the state remains low as most cases have concentrated in Washington state and California, where a cruise ship is being held off the coast after a passenger on a previous trip died and others became infected.
But at least in Miami, city officials have canceled two large music festivals over fears that crowded events could spread the new virus more widely. It is not clear whether state officials will implement any other drastic measures ahead of Florida's busy Spring Break season later this month.
Earlier Friday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis had asked state lawmakers for $25 million for health officials to use immediately in the state's response to coronavirus.
DeSantis said he expects Florida to receive at least $27 million from the federal government, along with an extra $500,000 from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to immediately cover costs like lab equipment and staffing.
The United Arab Emirates reported 15 additional cases on Saturday of a new and fast-spreading virus, bringing the total number of infections in the country to 45.
The Health Ministry said 13 of the new cases had recently arrived from abroad, and they include three Emirati citizens, two Saudis, two Ethiopians and two Iranians, as well as a person each from Thailand, China, Morocco and India.
The statement gave no further details on where the travelers had come, when they had arrived to the UAE and which ports of entry they had come in from.
The other two cases, an Emirati and an Egyptian, were diagnosed after being monitored in connection with a cycling tour in the country that was halted a week ago after two Italians were first confirmed as having the virus.
The UAE is a major tourist destination and most of its residents are foreigners. The emirate of Dubai is also home to the world's busiest airport for international travel.
To stymie the spread of the virus, the UAE has suspended schools, nurseries and universities for a month. It has also stopped flights to Iran, one of the hardest-hit countries by the new coronavirus, and limited flights to China.
Authorities have urged residents and citizens not to take unnecessary trips abroad, and to expect screenings and possible quarantines upon return. Like other countries around the world, the UAE has also cancelled major art, sporting and business events.
Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, announced there would be no spectators for sports competitions and games starting Saturday in order to combat the spread of the virus. The kingdom has five confirmed cases, but has taken unprecedented measures against the virus' spread, including halting all pilgrimage in Mecca, Islam's holiest site.
The virus, which originated in China, has infected more than 100,000 people globally. More than 5,000 cases have been confirmed in the Middle East, with most of those in Iran.