By Reuters and AFP
GENEVA/BEIJING/PARIS – The list of countries hit by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues to grow, with at least 14 countries reporting their first virus cases the past 24 hours.
The coronavirus has appeared in Brazil, Denmark, Estonia, Georgia, Greece, Norway, Northern Macedonia, Pakistan, Romania, The Netherlands, Nigeria, New Zealand, Belarus, and Lithuania, according to the latest count of Reuters and Agence France-Presse (AFP).
According to AFP, the first case in Nigeria is an Italian man.
The number of infections in Italy, the hardest hit country in Europe, hit 528, with 14 deaths.
Iran announced a total of 26 deaths and more than 245 infections.
France’s confirmed cases more than doubled in a day from 18 to 38.
The number of deaths in mainland China – excluding the semi-autonomous territories of Hong Kong and Macao – stands at 2,788, up 44; and cases climb to 78,824, up 327. Over the previous 24 hours, 433 new infections have been recorded there.
In Hong Kong, a dog was found to have “low level” of virus
In AFP’s latest count, 66 people have died outside mainland China since the start of the epidemic, out of 4,063 people infected, with 863 new cases
But the fatality rate in China slowed, with 29 new deaths on Thursday, the smallest number for almost a month.
Bracing for pandemic
But with hopes the disease could be contained to China vanishing, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday the world should prepare for a coronavirus pandemic.
The spread of the virus prompted investors to dump equities in expectation of a global recession.
Ratings agency Moody’s said a coronavirus pandemic would trigger global and US recessions in the first half of the year.
Share prices were on track for the worst week since the global financial crisis in 2008 as virus-related disruptions to international travel and supply chains fuelled fears of recession in the United States and the Euro zone.
The US stock market fell into correction territory with the benchmark S&P 500 index down more than 4% on Thursday, extending a market rout that has now sliced more than 10% off of its closing peak on Feb. 19. Asian stocks on Friday tracked Wall Street’s plunge.
“The coronavirus now looks like a pandemic. Markets can cope even if there is big risk as long as we can see the end of the tunnel,” said Norihiro Fujito, chief investment strategist at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities.
“But at the moment, no one can tell how long this will last and how severe it will get.”
Mainland China – where the virus originated late last year – reported 327 new cases on Friday, the lowest since Jan. 23, taking its total cases to more than 78,800 with almost 2,800 deaths.
But with countries other than China now accounting for about three quarters of new infections, WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said all nations should prepare.
“This virus has pandemic potential,” Tedros said in Geneva on Thursday. “This is not a time for fear. This is a time for taking action to prevent infection and save lives now.”
In addition to stockpiling medical supplies, governments ordered schools shut and canceled big gatherings, including sports events, to try to halt the spread of the flu-like disease known as COVID-19.
US President Donald Trump’s administration was considering invoking special powers to rapidly expand US production of protective gear, two officials told Reuters.
The US Food and Drug Administration announced the first coronavirus-related drug shortage in the United States but declined to name the drug in question.
In Europe, France’s number of reported cases doubled, Germany warned of an impending epidemic and Greece, a gateway for refugees from the Middle East, announced tighter border controls.
“We have a crisis before us. An epidemic is on its way,” French President Emmanuel Macron said.
The death toll in Italy, Europe’s worst-hit country, rose to 17 on Thursday and the number of people who tested positive for the illness increased by more than 200 to 650. Germany has about 45 cases, France around 38 and Spain 23, according to a Reuters count.
Tedros told reporters in Geneva that Iran, Italy and South Korea were at a “decisive point” in their efforts to prevent a wider outbreak.
Most cases outside China
South Korea has the most cases outside China, and reported 256 new infections on Friday, bringing the total number of infected in the country to 2,022.
The WHO’s Ryan said Iran’s outbreak may be worse than realized. It has suffered the highest death toll outside China, with 26 dead from 245 reported cases.
US intelligence agencies are monitoring the spread of coronavirus in Iran as well as India, where only a handful of cases of have been reported, sources familiar with the matter said.
Tokyo Olympics future
Japan is scheduled to host the 2020 Olympics in July but the head of the WHO’s emergency program, Dr. Mike Ryan, said discussions were being held with organizers about whether it should go ahead.
As of Friday, confirmed cases in Japan topped 200, with four deaths, excluding more than 700 cases and four more deaths from the quarantined cruise liner Diamond Princess.
The Japanese government has called on all schools to close and said that big gatherings and sports events should be scrapped or curtailed for two weeks, while pledging the Games will go ahead in Tokyo.
Tokyo Disneyland will be closed starting from Saturday through to March 15, its operator said on Friday, leaving all of Walt Disney Co’s theme parks in Asia temporarily shut.
The coronavirus has played havoc with global aviation and tourism as airlines cancel flights, countries ban visitors from hot spots and nervous passengers put off travel.
California-based Facebook Inc said it would cancel its annual developer conference and Microsoft Corp followed suit by withdrawing from a gaming conference scheduled for next month.
Korean Air Lines Co Ltd said it would not allow anyone with a temperature higher than 37.5 Celsius (99.5 Fahrenheit) fly to the United States and planned to expand such measures to other routes.
Scientists warn that much remains unknown about the virus, which can lead to pneumonia, and say vaccine may take up to 18 months to develop.
Hong Kong quarantined a pet dog of a coronavirus patient after it showed “weak positive” results for the virus, even though it did not have any symptoms. Further tests would be conducted to confirm if the dog had been infected.
US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director Robert Redfield said the agency was evaluating how long coronavirus could be infectious on surfaces.
“On copper and steel it’s pretty typical, it’s pretty much about 2 hours,” Redfield told a House of Representatives hearing. “But I will say on other surfaces – cardboard or plastic – it’s longer, and so we are looking at this.” (With a report from Bloomberg)