Coronavirus Live Updates: World Reaches ‘Decisive Point’ in Outbreak Fight, W.H.O. Says


Financial markets around the world continued their relentless plunge on Friday, with European exchanges all declining more than 3 percent. Wall Street seemed poised to follow.

Investors have been unnerved by the steady march of the new coronavirus around the globe, and the growing threat it poses to economic growth.

Africa has long been a source of concern, and a case in Nigeria raised fears that more infections might lurk undetected. In Europe, Wales and Northern Ireland both reported their first confirmed cases.

In Japan, already in shock over the decision to close schools for a month, officials in Hokkaido, the northernmost of Japan’s main islands, declared a state of emergency because of the pace of new infections there.

Switzerland banned all gatherings of more than 1,000 people.

The drumbeat of reports added to the sense that the outbreak may be becoming a pandemic, with health officials close to admitting it may have passed the point of no return.

More than 83,000 people in at least 53 countries have been infected, and more than 2,800 have died. New infections outside China are now outpacing those within the country, the site of the first and by far the largest outbreak.

“This virus has pandemic potential,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general of the World Health Organization, warned late Thursday. “We are actually in a very delicate situation in which the outbreak can go in any direction based on how we handle it.”

Even as countries prepared for the likelihood of significant outbreaks, early missteps raised troubling questions about how nations will handle a flood of cases — even those with robust health care systems.

A whistle-blower complaint in the United States outlined how federal health care workers had interacted with quarantined Americans without proper training or safety equipment.

Leaders Italy and South Korea defended their handling outbreaks — the largest outside China — even as the number of cases in those countries continued to grow.

European and Asian markets tumbled again on Friday as investors became even more concerned about the potential harm to worldwide economic growth from the spread of the new coronavirus.

Indexes in Britain, Germany and France slid more than 3 percent in early trading on Friday. The losses followed a 4.4 percent drop in the S&P 500 on Thursday, the worst day for American shares since 2011.

Futures markets indicated that Wall Street would open lower on Friday, too.

Investment bank economists issued increasingly glum predictions of how much the coronavirus outbreak would hurt economies around the world.

“The more countries that are faced with fighting a pandemic, the wider the potential for economic disruption and potential for increased recessionary risks,” Tai Hui, the chief market strategist for Asia at J.P. Morgan Asset Management, said in a research note on Friday.

The declines in Europe followed another grim day of trading in Asia. Shares in Japan fell 3.7 percent, and markets in Australia and South Korea each declined 3.3 percent.

  • Updated Feb. 26, 2020

    • What is a coronavirus?
      It is a novel virus named for the crownlike spikes that protrude from its surface. The coronavirus can infect both animals and people and can cause a range of respiratory illnesses from the common cold to more dangerous conditions like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS.
    • How do I keep myself and others safe?
      Washing your hands frequently is the most important thing you can do, along with staying at home when you’re sick.
    • What if I’m traveling?
      The C.D.C. has warned older and at-risk travelers to avoid Japan, Italy and Iran. The agency also has advised against all nonessential travel to South Korea and China.
    • Where has the virus spread?
      The virus, which originated in Wuhan, China, has sickened more than 80,000 people in at least 33 countries, including Italy, Iran and South Korea.
    • How contagious is the virus?
      According to preliminary research, it seems moderately infectious, similar to SARS, and is probably transmitted through sneezes, coughs and contaminated surfaces. Scientists have estimated that each infected person could spread it to somewhere between 1.5 and 3.5 people without effective containment measures.
    • Who is working to contain the virus?
      World Health Organization officials have been working with officials in China, where growth has slowed. But this week, as confirmed cases spiked on two continents, experts warned that the world was not ready for a major outbreak.

The Shanghai index dropped 3.7 percent, and Hong Kong shares fell 2.5 percent.

Nigeria on Friday confirmed its first case of coronavirus, raising fears of how an outbreak could wreak havoc in Africa’s most populous nation and across the continent.

The case, confirmed by the Nigerian Health Ministry, is the first confirmed infection in sub-Saharan Africa. The ministry said the patient was an Italian citizen who had returned to Lagos, the country’s largest city, from Milan on Feb. 25.

The Nigerian government said in a statement that the patient was stable, did not have “serious symptoms” and was being treated at the Infectious Disease Hospital in Yaba, a suburb of Lagos.

Despite the steady number of flights and the growing relationship between China and African countries, the only previously confirmed infections on the continent had been in Egypt and Algeria.

Dr. Osagie Ehanire, Nigeria’s minister of health, said in a statement that the country had been shoring up its preparedness since the virus started spreading in China and that it would respond with all available resources.

Africa has very few confirmed cases, but experts have already expressed concerns about how the continent would cope with a wide-scale outbreak.

The Africa Centers for Disease Control and the W.H.O. have worked with African nations to improve surveillance and testing.

Currently, 26 laboratories on the continent are able to test for the coronavirus, up from two in early February.

Dr. Ngozi Erondu, an associate fellow in the Global Health Program at Chatham House, an international research group in London, said it would be crucial for all African countries to enhance scrutiny of all travelers, especially those coming from countries with documented outbreaks.

“Staff at points of entry must realize that Covid-19 has no ethnicity or nationality, so personal biases must be checked,” she said, using the name of the disease caused by the coronavirus.

Officials in Hokkaido, the northernmost of Japan’s main islands, declared a state of emergency because of the pace of new infections there, the national broadcaster, NHK, reported on Friday.

The governor of the prefecture, Naomichi Suzuki, called on residents to refrain from going out over the weekend, the broadcaster said. School boards on the island had already moved to cancel classes, even before Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s request on Thursday that all schools nationwide close for about a month.

Japan has more than 200 cases of the new coronavirus and four deaths, in addition to more than 700 cases and an additional four deaths from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which spent two weeks quarantined while docked in Yokohama.

The latest death, reported on Thursday, was a man in his 80s on Hokkaido who had pre-existing conditions, the governor told reporters. Fifteen new cases were also reported in the prefecture on Thursday, bringing the total number there to 54, the highest in Japan. Two of the new cases were children under 10, officials said.

Japanese officials are facing increasing pressure to take action amid discussion of canceling the Tokyo Olympics, scheduled to begin in July. Major events have been canceled or postponed around the country.

President Battulga Khaltmaa of Mongolia and other government officials have begun a 14-day quarantine after returning home from China, the state news agency Montsame reported on Friday.

Mr. Battulga and the other senior officials including the foreign minister visited Beijing on Thursday and held meetings with the leader of China, Xi Jinping, and Premier Li Keqiang.

The Mongolian president said he would donate 30,000 sheep to China in support of the country’s fight against the epidemic, according to Chinese state media, which hailed Mr. Battulga as the first foreign head of state to visit the country since the outbreak.

The president and his team were immediately taken into quarantine upon arriving in Mongolia as a precautionary measure, Montsame reported.

Mongolia, which shares a border with China, has not reported any confirmed cases. The landlocked country had earlier closed its borders to China and temporarily banned arrivals from Japan and South Korea. All schools and universities have been closed until the end of March, and the country has extended its suspension of coal deliveries to China until mid-March.

A dog that was owned by a Hong Kong resident infected with the coronavirus tested “weak positive” for the pathogen, the city’s government said Friday, but experts cautioned that further tests were needed to confirm if the animal had actually contracted the virus.

The authorities found remnants of the virus in the dog, who was removed from its owner’s apartment on Wednesday, but said dog did not have any “relevant” symptoms.

The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department said it would conduct additional tests to determine if the initial findings were the result of “environmental contamination” rather than an infection.

Ben Cowling, a professor at the School of Public Health at the University of Hong Kong, said the result could indicate that the dog “licked a contaminated surface and the virus was picked up as contamination, not infection.”

The dog was taken by the authorities and put in quarantine. The government said it would be reunited with its owners if it conclusively tested negative for the virus that causes the respiratory disease Covid-19.

The Health Department on Friday said going forward, pets owned by residents who tested positive for the virus would be placed in quarantine for 14 days.

The new coronavirus is believed to have started in mammals, likely bats, before jumping species to humans. Since the start of the outbreak, some have feared that pet cats and dogs were at risk for infection, but the authorities have not yet determined if those animals can catch or transmit the virus to people.

In Hong Kong and mainland China, where surgical masks are a coveted commodity, protective pet owners have recently been seen putting masks and makeshift facial coverings on their cats and dogs.

The number of people infected with the coronavirus in South Korea shot up to 2,337 on Friday, as officials struggled to get a handle on the outbreak, which has also become a political crisis for the country’s leader, Moon Jae-in.

Since Mr. Moon raised the epidemic alert to its highest level on Sunday, the government has sent score of health workers to Daegu, the center of the largest outbreak outside of China. Nearly 85 percent of the cases in South Korea have been found among members of a large, shadowy church in the city.

Although smaller outbreaks have popped up in other cities across South Korea, including Seoul, the capital, health officials said that their war against the virus hinged largely on how quickly they can win the battle in Daegu, South Korea’s fourth-largest city with 2.4 million people.

In Daegu, health officials’ most urgent job has been to test nearly 1,300 members of the Shincheonji Church, who have reported potential symptoms of the virus, as well as those people with whom they have been in contact.

In the past few days, workers have tested up to 1,000 people a day, accounting for the sharp rise in the daily tally of patients.

“We have not finished our testing of Shincheonji worshipers in Daegu yet and as the statistics from there reach us, you will…


Read more…