China’s coronavirus crisis wanes as epidemic takes hold elsewhere

Beijing: China's coronavirus caseload continued to wane Tuesday even as the epidemic took a firmer hold beyond Asia, with three countries now exceeding 1000 cases and the US reporting its sixth death.

China's health ministry announced just 125 new cases detected over the past 24 hours, China's lowest number since January 20. Another 31 deaths were reported, all of them in the hardest-hit province of Hubei. The figures bring China's total number of cases to 80,151 with 2,943 deaths.

The global shift in the epidemic was apparent with 2410 recovered patients being released from Hubei's hospitals and treatment centres, many of them hastily built over recent weeks to cope with the thousands of people sickened by the virus. But new infections outside China were far surpassing its totals.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in, centre, and his ministers salute the flag during a cabinet meeting in downtown Seoul.Credit:Yonhap

School children in Japan stayed home with schools closed until April. Israelis in quarantine used special booths to vote in national elections. Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel was rebuffed by her interior minister when she extended her hand to greet him. And the United Nations postponed a major conference on women that had been expected to bring up to 12,000 people from its 193 member countries to New York next week.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) warned that the world economy could contract this quarter for the first time since the international financial crisis more than a decade ago. "Global economic prospects remain subdued and very uncertain," it said.

Nevertheless, the Dow Jones Industrial Average soared nearly 1300 points, or 5 per cent, as stocks roared back from a seven-day rout on hopes that central banks will take action to shield the global economy from the effects of the outbreak. Finance ministers and bank leaders from the Group of Seven major industrial countries said they will confer by phone to discuss an economic response.

Health officials in Washington state, where a particularly troubling cluster of cases surfaced at a nursing home outside Seattle, said four more people had died from the coronavirus, bringing the number of deaths in the US to six, all in Washington state. New cases were also reported in New Hampshire and New York.

At the same time, the White House sought to press the pharmaceutical industry for a fast-tracked vaccine. The Trump administration said it had secured commitments from top pharmaceutical companies to work together to develop a vaccine and treatments to fight the coronavirus.

A masked worker at the Life Care Centre in Kirkland, Washington, where several residents of the facility have died as a result of the COVID-19 disease.Credit:AP

More than 100 cases have been confirmed in the US but more are likely to be confirmed with thousands of test kits going to state and local labs and new guidelines to expand screening.

"In this situation, the facts defeat fear. Because the reality is reassuring. It is deep-breath time," New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said.

The message was echoed by global health officials, who said they were encouraged that even in some countries that had taken far less aggressive measures than China's to contain the spread, the virus remains largely in check.

Because the virus is not transmitted as easily as the flu, "it offers us a glimmer … that this virus can be suppressed and contained," said Dr Mike Ryan, the WHO's emergencies chief.

China in January imposed a virtual lockdown around Hubei's capital, Wuhan, where the illness was first detected in December and which has been the epicentre of the outbreak. Many countries have cancelled or curbed public events and discouraged travel to virus hotspots, but quarantines and similar restrictions have been on smaller scales, focused on those directly exposed.

Nurses assemble plastic face shields at a hospital designated for the coronavirus patients in Wuhan.Credit:AP

The worst-hit places outside China were South Korea, Iran and Italy. South Korea on Tuesday reported 477 new cases, bringing its totals to 4812 with 29 deaths. Most are in the southeastern city of Daegu and neighbouring towns.

In Iran, a confidant of Iran's supreme leader died from the virus. The Islamic Republic confirmed 1501 cases and 66 deaths, but many believe the true number is larger. Its reported caseload surged more than 250 per cent in just 24 hours.

Italy's caseload rose to 2036, including 52 deaths, but the increase in cases was slower than in previous days. Officials said it could take up to two weeks before they know whether measures including quarantining 11 towns in northern Italy are slowing the spread of the virus.


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