DUBAI/BEIJING, February 26 ------ The United States told Americans on Tuesday to begin preparing for coronavirus to spread within the country as outbreaks in Iran, South Korea and Italy escalated and fears that the epidemic would hurt global growth rattled markets. Iran’s coronavirus death toll rose to 16 on Tuesday, the most outside China, while Italy reported its 11th death. The virus has jumped to about 30 countries and territories, with some three dozen deaths outside China, according to a Reuters tally.
Worsening infections in Iran, Italy and South Korea are of particular concern, world health officials said. South Korea and Italy stepped up emergency measures to help curb the virus’ global spread. Believed to have originated from wildlife in Wuhan city late last year, the flu-like disease has infected 80,000 people and killed close to 2,700 in China. But the World Health Organization (WHO) said the outbreak there has been declining since Feb. 2.
Dr. Nancy Messonnier, an official at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told reporters that data on the virus’ spread over the past week had heightened the agency’s expectations of transmission within the United States. “Disruption to everyday life might be severe,” she cautioned. While saying the immediate risk from the coronavirus in the United States remained low, another top CDC official, Dr. Anne Schuchat, said it was no longer a question of if the virus would become a global pandemic. “It’s a question of when and how many people will be infected.”
The Dow and S&P 500 tumbled 3% on Tuesday in their fourth straight day of losses as investors struggled to gauge the virus’ economic impact. Iran’s outbreak, amid mounting U.S. sanctions pressure, threatens to leave it further cut off. Several countries suspended flights and some of its neighbors closed their borders, while Oman’s Khasab port halted imports and exports with Iran. “It is an uninvited and inauspicious visitor. God willing we will get through ... this virus,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said in a televised speech. Iran’s deputy health minister and a member of parliament were among those infected.
Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait Bahrain and Oman this week reported their first cases, all in people who had been to Iran. Bahrain said it now has 24 confirmed cases. Iran canceled concerts and soccer matches nationwide, and schools and universities closed in many provinces. Many Iranians took to social media to accuse authorities of concealing facts. Tehran says U.S. sanctions are hampering its response to the coronavirus by preventing imports of masks and medicines.