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Coronavirus spreads faster outside China, stoking global fears

  • Published at 09:23 am February 27th, 2020
South Korea-coronavirus
A confirmed coronavirus patient is wheeled to a hospital at Chuncheon, South Korea on February 22, 2020 Reuters

The World Health Organization (WHO) said China had reported 412 new cases on Tuesday

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.

US health authorities, managing 59 cases so far - mostly Americans repatriated from a cruise ship in Japan - have said a global pandemic is likely.

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 .MIWD00000PUS.

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.

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 Febuary 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. 

US 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.