Coronavirus spreads faster outside China, stoking global fears



SHANGHAI/SEOUL, February 27 ------ The number of new coronavirus infections inside China - the source of the outbreak - was for the first time overtaken by fresh cases elsewhere on Wednesday, with Italy and Iran emerging as epicenters of the rapidly spreading illness. Asia reported hundreds of new cases, Brazil confirmed Latin America’s first infection and the new disease - COVID-19 - was also detected for the first time in Pakistan, Sweden, Norway, Greece, Romania and Algeria.


U.S. health authorities, managing 59 cases so far - mostly Americans repatriated from a cruise ship in Japan - have said a global pandemic is likely. U.S. President Donald Trump, seeking to calm markets and an increasingly worried public, said in a live broadcast that the United States was “very very ready” to face the virus threat and that Vice President Mike Pence would be in charge of the national response. It was one of just a handful of times that the president has appeared in the White House briefing room. Stock markets across the world have lost $3.3 trillion of value in four days of trading, as measured by the MSCI all-country index.


Wall Street reversed earlier gains on Wednesday afternoon and oil prices dropped to their lowest level in over a year, spooked in part by health officials saying dozens of people who had been in China were being monitored in suburbs of populous New York city - although no confirmed cases have been found. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio urged the federal government to tighten testing for visitors from a range of countries where the virus has been spreading, adding that its eventual detection in the city was “100% certain.” The virus that can lead to pneumonia is believed to have originated in a market selling wildlife in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year. It has infected about 80,000 people and killed more than 2,700, the vast majority in China.


While radical quarantining measures have helped slow the rate of transmission in China, it is accelerating elsewhere. Germany, which has around 20 cases, said it was already impossible to trace all chains of infection, and Health Minister Jens Spahn urged regional authorities, hospitals and employers to review their pandemic planning. The World Health Organization (WHO) said China had reported 412 new cases on Tuesday, while there were 459 in 37 other countries. However, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus advised diplomats in Geneva on Wednesday against speaking of a pandemic - which the WHO defines as the worldwide spread of a new disease.


“Using the word pandemic carelessly has no tangible benefit, but it does have significant risk in terms of amplifying unnecessary and unjustified fear and stigma, and paralyzing systems,” he said. “It may also signal that we can no longer contain the virus, which is not true.” As panic increased, Mexican authorities barred a cruise ship from docking at one of its ports over what the ship’s company said was a single case of common seasonal flu. The WHO says the outbreak in China peaked around Feb. 2, after measures that included isolating its epicenter Hubei province. It said only 10 new cases were reported in China on Tuesday outside Hubei. There is no known vaccine for the virus. U.S. pharmaceutical firm Gilead Sciences Inc (GILD.O) said on Wednesday it had started two late-stage studies to test its experimental antiviral drug remdesivir in humans.


Source: reuters.com