SYDNEY/SEOUL — Governments ramped up measures on Thursday to battle a looming global pandemic of the coronavirus (COVID-19) as the number of new infections outside China for the first time surpassed new cases in the country where the outbreak began.
Australia initiated emergency measures and Taiwan raised its epidemic response level to its highest, a day after US President Donald Trump put his vice president, Mike Pence, in charge of the US response to the looming global health crisis.
The United States and South Korea postponed joint military drills to limit the spread of the virus, which has emerged far beyond China, where it originated late last year, apparently in a market selling wildlife in the city of Wuhan.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said his country, which has 23 cases of the virus, was operating on the basis of a pandemic and hospitals were under orders to ensure enough medical supplies, personal protective equipment and staff.
“There is every indication that the world will soon enter a pandemic phase of the coronavirus,” Morrison told a news conference in Canberra.
“As a result we have agreed today and initiated the … coronavirus emergency response plan.”
French President Emmanuel Macron called the outbreak a “crisis, an epidemic that is on the way.”
Stocks sank deeper into the red, oil prices fell and U.S. Treasuries rallied into record territory as more signs of the global spread of the virus heightened fears of a pandemic.
Global markets have dropped for six straight days, wiping out more than $3.6 trillion in value.
The coronavirus has infected more than 80,000 people and killed nearly 2,800, the majority in China. Much remains unknown about the virus but it is clear the ramifications of the world’s second-biggest economy in lockdown for a month or more are vast.
The rapid spread of the virus in different places – notably Italy, Iran and South Korea – in recent days has met the definition for a pandemic, and raised alarm.
The World Health Organization has not used the word pandemic to describe this outbreak.
There is no cure for the virus that can lead to pneumonia, and a vaccine may take up to 18 months to develop.
In Japan, a woman has tested positive for the virus for a second time, the first known person in the country to do so, raising new concern about it.
Japan has more than 190 cases and is facing questions about the Olympic Games, due to begin in Tokyo on July 24. The government will ask schools to close from March 2 until around the end of the month, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said.
There have been 3,246 cases outside China, including 51 deaths, according to a Reuters tally.
A rash of countries have reported their first cases in the past couple of days with the latest being Denmark, in a man who returned from a ski holiday in Italy, and Estonia, in a man returning from Iran, media reported.
Brazil confirmed Latin America’s first infection on Wednesday.
China reported 433 new cases on Thursday, against 406 a day earlier.
South Korea reported another 334 cases, pushing its total to 1,595, the most in any country other than China.
The US State Department issued a new travel warning for South Korea after the US military reported on Wednesday its first case of the coronavirus, in a 23-year-old soldier based near the South Korean city of Daegu.
The South Korean military has also reported a number of infections and confined most troops to base.
A “command post training”, usually conducted by members of the two militaries’ Combined Forces Command, will be postponed until further notice, the command said.
The outbreak has played havoc with international aviation with airlines cancelling flights as countries ban visitors from hot spots and nervous passengers put off travel plans.
News that a Korean Air flight attendant who worked on flights between Seoul and Los Angeles later tested positive, is likely to unnerve passengers further.
The United States is managing 59 cases – most of them Americans repatriated from a cruise ship quarantined in Japan where almost 700 cases developed. Four people from the ship have died in Japan.
Trump said the risk from the virus was “very low” in the United States, and it was “very very ready” to face the threat.
Chinese authorities said the number of new deaths stood at 29 on Thursday, the lowest daily tally since Jan. 28. The virus has now killed 2,744 people in China, most in the central province of Hubei.
Italy reported another 100 cases nationwide, taking the total in Europe’s biggest hot spot to more than 400, while its death toll rose to 12.
Many of the cases appearing in the Middle East have been linked to Iran, which has had 141 cases and 22 deaths, the most outside China.
Saudi Arabia suspended foreigners’ entry for the Umrah pilgrimage and tourism from countries with new coronavirus cases. The kingdom has no cases.
GENEVA — United Nations human rights guardian Michelle Bachelet urged the global community on Thursday to show solidarity with people of ethnic Asian origin subject to discrimination amid an outbreak of a novel coronavirus that started in China.
“The coronavirus epidemic has set off a disturbing wave of prejudice against people of Chinese and East Asian ethnicity, and I call on member states to do their utmost to combat this and other forms of discrimination,” she told a session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva.
Governments are ramping up measures to battle a looming global pandemic of the coronavirus as the number of infections outside China for the first time surpassed those appearing inside the country. — Reuters