China reported a fresh spike in coronavirus infections on Sunday, as US President Donald Trump urged calm after the first death on American soil and Australia registered its first fatality.
The virus has spread to more than 60 countries around the globe, prompting the World Health Organization to raise its risk assessment to its highest level.
Worldwide, nearly 3,000 people have been killed and more than 87,000 infected since the virus was first detected late last year in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.
China on Sunday reported 573 new infections, the highest figure in a week after a dip. All but three of them were in Hubei province, of which Wuhan is the capital.
Despite the increase, China said its response to the epidemic — which include temporarily closing factories and quarantining Hubei — “continues to be good” though risks still remained.
“The next step is to focus on the risks brought by the resumption of work and the increasing number of foreign cases,” said Mi Feng, spokesman at the National Health Commission.
While the numbers in China are still far lower than the huge daily increases reported during the first two weeks of February, COVID-19 has spread rapidly across borders, with South Korea, Italy and Iran emerging as hotspots.
South Korea, which has the most infected people outside China, reported 586 new cases on Sunday, bringing its total to 3,736.
Australia reported the first death on its soil — a 78-year-old man who had been evacuated from the coronavirus-stricken Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan.
There are fears the disease could hammer the global economy, and stock markets last week plunged to their lowest levels since the 2008 financial crisis.
First death on US soil
Global attention turned to the United States on Saturday after the first fatality on American soil was confirmed.
“We’ve taken the most aggressive actions to confront the coronavirus,” President Donald Trump said at a hastily arranged White House press conference.
“Our country is prepared for any circumstance… There is no reason to panic at all.”
The fatality occurred in Washington state’s King County, which includes Seattle, a city of more than 700,000 people, health officials said.
The victim was in his 50s and had “underlying health conditions,” officials added, as they also announced a possible outbreak in a Washington state nursing home, where a health worker and a resident in her 70s were both confirmed sick with the virus.
Other residents and staff were “ill with respiratory symptoms or hospitalised with pneumonia of unknown cause,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said.
Trump on the coronavirus: “It’s going to disappear one day it’s like a miracle it will disappear.” pic.twitter.com/sFefXIWhlj
— The Hill (@thehill) February 28, 2020
The death and two confirmed Washington cases all involved patients who had not travelled overseas or come in contact with anyone known to be ill, indicating the virus was spreading in the US.
“We will see more cases,” Health Secretary Alex Azar said at the White House.
“But it’s important to remember, for the vast majority of individuals who contract the novel coronavirus, they will experience mild to moderate symptoms.
France, Italy measures
France cancelled gatherings of 5,000 people or more after a surge of new cases were confirmed there on Saturday. The country’s total stands at 100, with two deaths logged.
In two regions hard-hit by the virus, Oise and La Balme-de-Sillingy, some schools were closed, while authorities warned against non-essential travel and encouraged people to work from home if possible.
Sunday’s Paris half-marathon and an agricultural symposium were among the events axed.
Italy, the hotspot of the outbreak in Europe, saw a jump in new cases on Saturday, with its number of infections exceeding 1,000 and the death toll rising by eight to 29.
The outbreak forced the postponement of five matches in Italy’s top-flight Serie A football league, including the heavyweight clash between champions Juventus and Inter Milan.
In Japan, just 200 people took part in Sunday’s Tokyo marathon after it was reduced from a mass participation event of 38,000 runners to just elite athletes.
The sumo spring tournament which opens next Sunday will now be held behind closed doors due to the coronavirus.
In recent days, the epidemic has spread also to sub-Saharan Africa, while Qatar, Ecuador, Luxembourg and Ireland all confirmed their first cases on Saturday. Armenia reported its first case on Sunday.
Governments around the world have scrambled to prevent the spread of the virus, from large-scale lockdowns of millions of people in China to flight bans and travel restrictions from disease hotspots.
South Korea’s epidemic is centred in its fourth-largest city, Daegu, whose streets have been largely deserted for days, apart from long queues at the few shops with masks for sale.
The total in South Korea is expected to rise further as authorities screen more than 210,000 members of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, a secretive entity often accused of being a cult that is linked to around half of the country’s cases.